by Todd Hamm
on Thu, Jan 16, 2014 at 4:48 PM
A couple times a week I get home in the middle of the night. When I've worked the long closing shift at the bar I pour drinks at, then catch a ride or navigate the entirely night-worker-shunning public transportation system, I often arrive home wired, in no condition to sleep. The other night—instead of waging the usual war against surplus energy and a day's worth of thoughts at home, tossing and turning in bed—I decided to go for a jog. I had just seen an email that told me music discovery site Hype Machine was streaming Chiaroscuro, the not-even-out-yet new album from Stockholm's gauzy electro duo I Break Horses, so I threw that on the smartphone player and pranced out into the night. (Do yourself a solid and listen to it here.)
Hearts, IBH's stellar 2011 debut was a tingly barrage of digital fuzz, like looking at a colorful array of LEDs coated in Vaseline, maybe while chewing on a speaker wire. The songs were largely upbeat, or at least splashed with the kind of energy that makes a thing feel fresh and new. It might have been the perfect soundtrack to a giddy acid trip. On the album's cover, a horse playfully reared on his hind legs in front of an all-white background.
The artwork for Chiaroscuro (above) is dark, intricate geometry—an appropriate shift for an album that necessitates the kind of close listening only possible inside the quiet hours between sunset and dawn. The nine-song, roughly 45-minute LP is an immersive experience. Serene and contemplative, richly layered and delicately detailed, it is the perfect companion to your midnight spirit quest.
Taken from Italian, "chiaroscuro" is a term that artists use to describe the interplay between light and dark shades, and as I ran alongside a marina near my house, the ships' masts and the water's calmly rolling surface tinkered with the light of the moon like a shimmering soundmap of what was coming through my headphones. With a voice as sweet as Madonna, but as detached as Victoria Legrand, Maria Lindén's dreamy tone is blended into the mix to beautiful effect. Producer Fredrik Balck has slowed things down to make room for all of his ingredients, but also carves some tight melody lines into early album numbers "Faith" (below), and "Ascension." I felt like I was dreaming before I even got home.