Best albums of 2020: #2 I Break Horses “Warnings”

Back in June 2019, I wrote about I Break Horses when one of their tracks, “Winter beats”, from their debut album, “Horses”, appeared at the number eleven spot on my Best tunes of 2011 list. I wrote then that I didn’t know much about the Swedish duo of Maria Lindén and Fredrik Balck, except that I loved their shoegaze-inspired dreamscapes and that it had been a number of years since we had heard much more about them, their second and only other album having been released five years prior.

Then, earlier this year, there were rumblings on the internet that Maria Lindén was planning to release a new album under the I Break Horses name. There was even an advance single making the rounds. I didn’t immediately jump into the waters to take the temperature but when I saw that “Warnings” was on Spotify in May, I gave it a spin on my iPod while doing some chores around the house. I don’t think I was even halfway through the dramatic 9-minute opener, “Turn”, before I was surfing my way to the Bella Union website to order a copy of the album on vinyl. It wasn’t long after I received it and gave it a few goes on the turntable platter that I was already calling it an early favourite for best album of 2020. Well, as you can tell, it was beaten by one album, but only just.

On “Warnings”, Lindén has created a cinematic world all her own. She took her time with it, lived through it, and experienced a lot of heartache and setbacks to bring it to fruition. The album is almost a living and breathing thing, a far cry from her debut, which of course I still love, but its touchstones and influences were far more obvious. “Warnings” has both the makings of a celebratory party soundtrack and a night home with a good set of ear phones and a bottle of good red. And if you’re not careful, it will take you with it on a whole range of crushing emotions.

Indeed, “Warnings” is a whole, a world, a universe that should be taken together and I highly recommend doing so. But in the interest of time, I’ve agonized to select three picks for you to sample. Enjoy.

“Death engine“: The very first single released in advance of the album gave us fair warning of what we were in for, had we any wish to heed such a thing. It clocks in at well over seven and a half minutes and is a beast of a thing. An explosion of synths, layered in a patchwork over top each other, the most prominent one being a stomping and foreboding organism, reminiscent of something from a John Hughes teen angst film. It all marches unstoppably to an obvious and unavoidable end. The imagery is inherent and beautiful, Lindén’s voice a ringing knell that is still somehow uplifting and hopeful. She wrote the words to the song as a reflection on a “close friend’s suicide attempt” and the fact she read that suicide is the second leading cause of death in Generation Z. “You’ve run out of light and I’m out of sight. I’ve run out of time. We’re running out.”

“I’ll be the death of you”: “Honey I don’t mind running blind. You keep pushing on to get inside my mind. Don’t care what you find.” The second single to be released off the album is also one of the shorter tracks on the album. It starts off sounding a bit like I Break Horses of old, in particular, the aforementioned personal favourite, “Winter beats”: all textured and washed out synths that flash and pan like strobe lights. The dance floor madness continues but metamorphoses into a blooming flower, bursting with colour and fragrance. Lindén herself describes it as occupying a hazy middle ground between Screamdelica and early OMD. A “somewhat darker and more nihilistic approach to when passion takes a more eccentric turn”. For me, it is another four and half minutes of bliss, a foreboding of tragedy but getting caught up in the moment, the emotion, and not caring about the consequences. Love can be dangerous and bad for your health. But who would say no to that?

“Turn”: My final pick is track number one on the album, the one that had me sold on the album before I even got to the end of it. It’s a nine minute epic, and yeah, it’s a monster. It takes its time with you, teasing it out of you. Slow and plodding and methodical, the beat hits like your heart, skipping and pitter-pattering all over the place. The synths climb up and down your spine and back all the way up to the heavens. And Lindén is there with those haunting vocals of hers. “Turn. I can’t turn love around and I’m losing my mind. Turn or let me follow you down.” A love that cannot be saved. A destructive love that should not be saved. A letting go, a pushing away, allowing the anchor to drop to the bottom of the ocean while the sunlight reflects and refracts in the gallons of water overhead. There is such beauty and honesty in the pain imbued in this track, the tears and the ache. More red wine and candles please. Just close your eyes and enjoy.

Before I forget, a pre-emptive ‘merry Christmas’ to those that plan to celebrate the holiday tomorrow. Don’t forget to check back next Thursday, New Year’s eve, for album #1.

In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. The Strokes “The new abnormal”
9. Venus Furs “Venus Furs”
8. Bright Eyes “Down in the weeds, where the world once was”
7. The Beths “Jump rope gazers”
6. The Rentals “Q36”
5. Secret Machines “Awake in the brain chamber”
4. No Joy “Motherhood”
3. Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.

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