I Break Horses - Hearts
released 22 August 2011 on Bella Union
I Break Horses are a very 2011 band. That is to say they’re reminiscent of some of the acts who have broken through this year - Washed Out or Austra. The word “chillwave” is starting to become irritatingly ubiquitous, but touches all the cornerstones so distinctly it’s difficult to get away from it. There’s a woozy, underwater feel to much of the record, and it’s clearly indebted to both the sleek electro-pop of the '80s and the reverb-heavy shoegaze of the early '90s.
This means there is a danger of fading into the background in the face of stiff opposition. Luckily for I Break Horses, they get off to a cracking start with Winter Beats – an epic track, building an atmosphere with layer upon layer of keyboard before culminating in a thrilling electro wig out. It’s stirring stuff and sets expectations high for the rest of the record.
Unfortunately, never quite hits that dizzy altitude again, but there are certainly moments of quality throughout. The two tracks that follow Winter Beats, the title track and Wired, possess Fuck Buttons-like walls of distortion and a spacey, cosmic breakdown respectively. Around two thirds through the record, however, all the chiming and shimmering seems to blend into one big wintery, codeine-laced soup. Occasional moments such as the break in reverb in Load Your Eyes - sounding like the sun busting through the clouds - are welcome, but the record becomes more dull the longer it goes on.
This may not be the band's fault. They’ve come into a saturated market and there are some real top acts ploughing a similar furrow. If it weren’t for the aptitude and invention of Junior Boys, School Of Seven Bells, Blonde Redhead and others, would sound fresher. It’s a constant struggle for individuality and, as pleasant as their music is, I Break Horses are unable to carve out a niche. They’re not helped by their insistence on burying the breathy vocals deep within the mix, meaning that although has a more “live” feel than a lot of records, it’s tricky for any real character to shine through.
This may all be unduly harsh, as is in no way a bad album, but there are just similar, better records around. It’s when I Break Horses pull away from the well-trodden formula that there’s hope for the future. The aforementioned title track creeps with a certain degree of menace, and the sunshine pop of Pulse is fit to challenge Best Coast and -era MGMT.
It looks like the very movement bringing I Break Horses to prominence may also be the albatross around their neck, preventing them from making a real impact. There’s an overriding impression that there’s not a lot going on beneath the surface, thus, while the album a diverting listen, it’s not a truly satisfying one.