I BREAK HORSES – Chiaroscuro

Album: Chiaroscuro

Artist: I Break Horses

Label: Bella Union

Release Date: January 21, 2014

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A term from Renaissance art, “chiaroscuro” refers to strong contrast between light and shadow. It’s an odd title for I Break Horses’ second album, which is rendered mostly in shades of cloud-white and steel-gray. The Swedish duo does deal in counterpoint, floating Maria Linden’s breathy soprano over electronic loops, beats and stutters, and occasionally adding dance-floor flourishes like the surging five-note hook that punctuates “Faith.” But even these touches are usually hushed and gentle.

The best of the cool and dreamy soundscapes may be “Ascension,” which is energized by a simple, metallic-toned percussion phrase. Stringing eight such numbers together doesn’t benefit any of them, however. Such tracks as “You Burn” — which simmers rather than blazes — and “Heart to Know” are just too similar in tone and mood, if not content.

“Weigh True Words” is the exception, although only partially. Most of it is woozy and midtempo, just like the rest of the album, but it does feature a rousing refrain that erupts twice amid the clacks and coos. That sing-along bit flirts with ’80s arena-pop, suggesting a moment that somehow wandered in from Pat Benatar’s back catalog. In another context, it would be corny. Here, it’s a welcome flash of light through the aural mist.

DOWNLOAD: “Ascension,” “Weigh True Words”

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