Chiaroscuro is a $5 art-world term that means the use of light and dark in an image. Sure, it would have been simpler for I Break Horses to name their sophomore album Contrasts. But primary songwriter/frontwoman Maria Lindén has no interest in taking the easy road. Jettisoning the shoegazy wall of guitars that marked their first album Hearts, the Swedish musician has embraced a twinkly electronic aesthetic that owes more to M83 and Ladytron than My Bloody Valentine. It’s a remarkable juggling act, Lindén orchestrating keys, drum machines and an untold number of effects, interweaving them with her fairytale soprano to create a deliciously oppressive atmosphere.
But perhaps the greatest trick: Despite a legion of moving parts piled with a house-of-cards precariousness, I Break Horses has created another incredibly enjoyable album. Opener “You Burn” ratchets up the tension, its slow piano and drum machine hitting a peak with the addition of copious amounts of reverb and a radiant analog synth. “Faith” flies with rapid-fire urgency, its densely packed motorik beats blurring into an otherworldly glow. But it’s “Denial” where all the ideas come together. The pure-pop chorus could be mistaken for a lost Madonna hit, before it veers into abstraction with layers of tape delay and video game-style samples. At the center of it all is Lindén, conducting a symphony of sound and earning her $5 art words.