I Break Horses
I Break Horses came out as a band, few years ago with the classic progress of “new name – debut single – Album” on the Bella Union roster. There was a big tam tam (nowadays known as going viral) on music related webzines and I never understood the origin of the name. But it is a name you remember.
This lead to Hearts, the debut album. It got TLOBF “album of the year” tag in 2011 “winning” over artists as Kurt Vile, The war on Drugs and Bon Iver.
True that this Swedish duo, signed by BellaUnion, checked all the boxes the ‘English-but-in-love-with-Scandinavian-pop’ webzine loves as Bridgewater honestly put in the review.
I listened to Heart several times (and I am relistening it now while writing) despite my musical taste is far from electro-pop, dream pop or new millennium shoegaze (which has nothing to do with My Bloody Valentine, Galaxy 500 or Slowdive). With few listens I appreciated the delicate but very well-crafted sound. Sketched melodies and singer lines, hidden behind a softer noise than you would expect by the genre definition, work in a similar way to those delicate sketches of masters of painting that are better than the final canvas.
From the nineties pioneers, to the (20)10s revival, shoegazers have decrease the volume and the numbers of coats of sound they add to cover pop songs.
There are reasons into that. There are less guitars involved. The distorsion effects are applied to laptops. Bands come often from beyond the Anglo-Saxon axis and get inspired by their traditions.
Is not news that, when Norway is associated to black metal, Sweden is the land of electropop.
Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, aka I Break Horses, started as a duo. He’s on percussion, she sings and plays keys as far as tinstruments. The bulk of their music is clearly elaborated on a laptop with a mousepad.
It took about 3 years to I Break Horses to put together a second album. It is out now and titled Chiaroscuro, which is the “Italian for light-dark […] in art is the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, usually bold contrasts affecting a whole composition.” (Thanks Wiki)
The album streamed a week in advance on TLOBF and, as the previous, it took me few listens to click in.
It has similar patterns to Hearts in the sense that songs’ melodies give the sensation of being just sketched with a charcoal ‘chiaroscuro’, only the ‘scuro’ is more present than the ‘chiaro’.
There are not hits in it. Like it or not, this is the trend (listen to latest Warpaint for example, probably the best ever album without a single tune ever written) and it is the same for I Break Horses. They didn’t change their plot because they don’t follow a plot. It’s a stream of consciousness, they follow their heart.
Emotions go up and down a rollercoaster. It’s like climbing on some darker songs, sliding down with some faster beats and getting inundated with some noise. But there is less noise than in Hearts, more electronics.
The album is being received softly, surely with less pomp than Hearts. It’s half because of a natural tendency of the music scene, usually warmer towards debuts than follow ups. The other half because sticking to the same plot, the music has less chances to surprise the listener.
Pitchfork marked Hearts with a 7.2, in its usual anti-European inclination anytime Thom Yorke is not involved. Chiaroscuro gets an unfair 5.9 in Chicago. A mark that back to my school years would mean “they can do much better but they don’t put enough effort into it”.
On top of the Any Decent Music list of reviews sits TLOBF with a sound 8.5 + “album of the week”.
(Maria also talks about emotional rollercoaster on the interview and I swear I didn’t read this before writing about it 2 paragraphs above :-)
All summed up together I went to the Village Underground to see I Break Horses album launch live, it was my first time.
It also was the 23rd of January, time to kick off the concert season 2014 after the lazy Christmas weeks.
I expected a duo, I found a full band, including a guitarist, a back singer and an added synth. Fredrik Balck sits on drums and Maria Lindén, centre stage is on keys and singing. If the audience was iron dust she’d be a strong magnet. The Village Underground is sold-out but it’s like there are 50 of us.
You can’t avoid staring at her. Her singing, her smile, her moves all works in synchrony. Her Nordic simplicity is the most effective way to make her special. No need to show off, to highlight anything. Is the anti pop star. As their music is the perfect anti-pop. All happens peacefully, calmly, beautifully. It’s dreamy or it is a dream, relaxing as a SPA, anergetic as a vegan smoothy. It is pop denying every single pop cliché.
It all comes together, I Break Horses are simple. Not after any special effect. They are not here to surprise the audience, they don’t have tricks in the hat. They love their music, believe in their songs, talk about their life and send the vibe to people sympathetic with it to the point of inviting anyone to a free after show party I sadly have to miss.
You can be in touch with I Break Horses here, they are heading to USA in spring and I expect a busy festival season playing these songs.
Know more about them here [website][facebook][twitter][Spotify]
I am entering a delicate territory here but talking about photography of pop and rock stars it is relevant. The entertainment industry undisputably pays a fair share of attention to aesthetics.
I am also Italian and I regrettably bring with me an archetipical amount of “sexism” in my culture that, despite being the least macho man in the country, acts probably on the subconscious to complicate things.
All of this to say?
Well I wanted to put together few words about shooting bands whose frontwoman (it may works as well for a frontman to be fair) is a top-model-like aspect. The occasion just arrived.
Maria Linden of I Break Horses is undisputably beautiful. One of the most beautiful artist in the indie music scene I portraited. Once she walks on stage she magneticaly attracts men, women and camera lenses (the topic of this tip) with her charm.
How to report and review by images a concert of such a band?
One way is to include full band shots. I fired some to Rex but I knew from the beginning that if a photo was going to be picked it would not have been that. Dicto my image on the Evening Standard alongside a review shows is this one
I had band members to shoot with 5 people on stage and I also stepped sideway to get a different perspective, still there is such a power on Maria’s photos that will never be there in any other attempt.
How to portray her, then, and what’s the issue.
I had to change for once my rigid position about (avoiding) microphones as hell, whenever possibile. I am telling you
Going through the set of images I shot on the train back home, I realised that the ones where I carefully waited for the moment she moved away from the bloody microphone did not look like concert photos. They are more like portraits of a model lit by mostly a not ideal lighting.
Back to the devil was the solution. Review-wise, in the case you’ve got an angel in front of you, my tip is to include the microphone. Yes I said that.
I would still wait for the moment the nasty object is out of the face, eyes, nose and mouth if possible, but leave it in the frame. The image will keep that sensation that a song is going on.
There is the option of including the instruments, it works better with guitars, a bit more difficult with a keyboardist and a high stage.
It always arrive the exception to confirm a rule, do not forget the rule!
Microphones are the devil, avoid them whenever possibile and bin all photos where they unnaturally cover singers’ faces.