Largely abandoning the My Bloody Valentine influences of their debut – perhaps as a result of the real thing finally returning from a 22-year-absence last February – Swedish duo I Break Horses now gravitate towards a different sound from their youth for their second studio effort, Chiaroscuro.
Named after the Italian for light/dark, the follow-up to 2011’s Hearts is as reverb-laden as its predecessor. But instead of shoegazing guitars, it’s glacial synths that define these nine tracks, all of which are intended to recapture both the glamour and the melancholy of the early 80s electro scene.
At times, I Break Horses sail a little too close to tribute act territory. The nightmarish “Faith” contains a warped synth hook eerily reminiscent of Visage’s one-hit-wonder “Fade To Grey,” while the ghostly echoed vocals and the thunderous bass drums of “Bercuese” regularly threaten to burst into Ultravox classic “Vienna.”
Meanwhile, the breathless tones of frontwoman Maria Lindén – whose decision to write, produce and mix the record almost renders Fredrik Balck surplus to requirements – and their resemblance to everyone from Bat For Lashes to Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass to Alison Goldfrapp also fail to give Chiaroscuro much of a distinct identity.
However, there are still several moments of incredible beauty here, particularly the sprawling eight-minute closer “Heart To Know,” a fragile and funereal beatless ballad drenched in the kind of hazy atmospherics for which the pair have become renowned, and the deliciously woozy but similarly epic soundscape of “Medicine Brush.” And the gloriously dreamy synth-pop of “Denial” virtually justifies I Break Horses’ change in direction single-handedly.
One of the first key dance releases of 2014, Chiaroscuro is unlikely to shape the sound of the next twelve months, but it’s a wonderfully-crafted reinvention which proves that there’s still plenty of mileage left in 80s nostalgia.