I Break Horses
Bella Union

Swedish duo I Break Horses have been described variously as “sumptuously textured soundscapes”, “the kind [of shoegaze] that’s made by computers for computers”, and “[striving] to approximate Loveless without the benefit of a label they can bankrupt in the process” (guess which two of those came from one of the shade-throwers at Pitchfork).  I’m inclined to place them somewhere between the first two; there’s no doubt that I Break Horses are ambient and spacey enough to have earned their 2013 tour with Sigur Ròs, and the bank of effects their soft-padding synths and swoopy, sliding guitar get pushed through certainly takes a robust processor to handle.  Warnings, their third full-length, takes a slower, more languid pace to I Break Horses’ sound.

If there’s a single word I’d use to describe Warnings, it would be wide.  The mix takes full advantage of stereo sound, the chorus has reverb that is then chorused, even when the guitar punches in with a forceful growl towards the end of “The Prophet” the synth and aerosol voice spread out like a lenticular cloud above it.  For all that, though, the instrumentation is downright sparse in places; in particular the opener “Turn” relies solely on pads, some highly-effected guitar fluttering on the sides, and Maria Lindén’s dreamy vocal floating above the sea of chorus.  The standout track “I Live At Night” adds a drivingly sensual drum machine with it and turns out like the soundtrack to a David Lynch love scene (and yes, that’s a compliment).  But a lot of Warnings is wall-of-synth shoegaze – shuffling or chattering drum machine carrying a mass of reverbs and a middle-of-the-mix, not-quite-understandable soprano 2 vocal line driven at mid-tempo.  It compares well to A Sunny Day in Glasgow or the soft side of Curve.  Similarly to A Sunny Day, some of its best moments are those that break from the sound – like the all-too-brief naked drum beat at the end of “Baby You Have Traveled for Miles Without Love in Your Eyes” or the stunning vocoder-only closer “Depression Tourist”.

And yes, Warnings is absolutely a sound record.  It feels a lot like mid-autumn at a cold-water seashore; not quite chilly, not quite alone, but looking out at a flat blue horizon and keeping its thoughts to itself.  If the first We Were Promised Jetpacks is staring out at the Scottish moors, Warnings is staring off of a Stockholm pier into the North Sea.  It makes for an intellectual, introspective mood.  The fluidity with which the songs blend is impressive, it’s a very cohesive package.  That said, the package is very ambient; Warnings makes a better passive listen than an active one.  Taking it as a whole it feels more like a tone poem, with sharp bits like the sudden horns in “Silence” acting as punctuation.  Taking a deep dive leaves you swimming in the shoegaze effects; it’s hard to sharply define anything amidst all the roundness of the sound.

As a whole I genuinely like Warnings.  But even for me and my deep appreciation of both shoegaze and sound records it’s hard to stay fully focused on it for more than two or three songs consecutively.  Thankfully, it doesn’t need to stand up to complete attention; let its tide come in and out a few times, then go dig in the sand where you see something interesting poking up.

Pros: A good sound and mood record.  Well crafted shoegaze is hard to assemble, Warnings does it well.  “Depression Tourist”.

Cons:  It’s a sound record, and a softer one at that.  If you don’t like anything out of Sigur Ròs, Dead Can Dance, or A Sunny Day in Glasgow you’ll hate this.

Bottom Line:  I’m having a hard time distilling exactly why I like Warnings – but I -do- like it.  I recommend it, see what you can find under its layers.