I Break Horses – Hearts

My last name is Norwegian, which is odd because I barely have any Norwegian in my bloodline—I’m mostly Czech and German. However, I do tend to share some personality characteristics with that of the Norwegians and other Scandinavian people.

For example, unlike most southern Californians, I enjoy the cold and snow, and I like the concept of having to scrape a foot of powder off my car after a heavy snowstorm. I love forests, not deserts. I can’t stand the hot California summers; I feel like I’m melting in an oven. I’m a huge fan of rally and Formula 1 racing, much like the Finnish, and like the Finnish, I’d like to think I’m a fast driver in a competition. I love order and quiet, I love reading, and I have a happy-go-lucky personality. For all intents and purposes, I might as well be from Norway or Sweden or Finland.

Part of this “soul connection” with the Scandinavians also apparently seems to mean I share musical taste with them, at least to a degree. Over the past several weeks, I’ve discovered several bands and music projects from the area, and I’ve loved every single one of them. Their music isn’t loud, it isn’t obnoxious, it isn’t “in your face”; it’s quiet, it’s restrained, and in many cases, it’s beautiful. Their music is something I can put on in the background while I’m doing my homework or driving, making what is normally a tedious and annoying task pleasant and relaxing. It’s almost like temporarily taking a trip to the stereotypical “happy place.”

The latest group I’ve found is titled I Break Horses, and is from Sweden. They’re yet another band to follow in what’s known as the “shoegaze” genre—essentially a mix between ambient music and what seems like trance. They’re not the only band working in this genre—a notable proponent of shoegaze happens to be M83, who has several videos on youtube.com with several million views, and who has a permanent home in my music library—but in my opinion I Break Horses is one of the better groups out there.

Their début album, Hearts, has one of the most beautiful, trance-inducing beginnings of any album I’ve listened to, rivaled only by M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The tracks “Winter Beats” and “Hearts” seem to just build and build until they can’t seem to rise in intensity any longer, yet they achieve the impossible and reach a climax far higher than seems believable. The effect is multiplied when there is a subwoofer to back up the music, especially in the end of “Hearts,” which seems to induce my imagination to create faraway lands of immense beauty.

Of course, with such a climactic beginning, the rest of the album must fall prey to the rules of any plotline—all that can remain is falling action, a release of sorts. It is after “Hearts” that my least favorite—though it must be said not entirely unpleasant—song plays, called “Wired.” It doesn’t seem to match with the rest of the album very well at all, using what is essentially a guitar with a bit of a blues rhythm tossed in. It’s not a bad song, not by any means; it simply doesn’t combine well with the rest of the album.

“Wired” is truly the only bad egg of the album, if you can call it a bad egg. The remaining six tracks follow in the footsteps of “Winter Beats” and “Hearts,” but are simply not as large and bold in sound. Although this sounds like quite a disappointment, it isn’t really. They provide an exhale for the album, a way to release all the build-up from the first two tracks, and they’re all fantastic songs. However, the album doesn’t make much of an attempt to re-attain any measure of its initial boldness, which is a shame, because instead of ending on a memorable note, it simply fades away until there is nothing remaining.

I wanted to love this album, but unfortunately I found myself only truly loving the first two tracks. I liked the rest, sure, but they didn’t strike a chord and resonate with me the same way the initial songs did. For this reason, I would award the album a 7.5/10 rather than an 8 or 9. Perhaps those remaining points can be gathered for the next album, but only time will tell.

Interested people can watch an official music video of “Hearts” at http://vimeo.com/23403268.