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.


Playlist: New tunes from 2020, part two

Back at the end of April, I posted the first part of this series, sharing with you all a playlist containing twenty-five tracks that I enjoyed during the first quarter of 2020. At that time, we were just five weeks or so into COVID-19 lockdown and had no idea what was going to happen or how long things were going to go on the way they were going. And well, we’re now nearing the end of July and we still don’t really have the answer to any of these questions. Restrictions have been relaxed in different parts of the world and we’ve had second outbreaks happen in others. We’ve been very tentative here in Canada. Slowly, slowly, slowly, we’ve seen some return to normalcy, albeit with some changes. Drive-in movie theatres appear to be making a comeback and leapfrogging from that, drive-in concerts. Masks are now prevalent and being made mandatory in all indoor public places. And of course, many of us are still working from home and really, seeing very little of other people outside of our own little bubbles.

Luckily for us, new music is still being released. Something to keep us occupied while we all stuck at home. I’ve (more than once) found myself wondering, though, if it, at some point, the music would stop coming. But no, at least not yet. Indeed, I would imagine that many of the tracks on this playlist were finished up during this crazy time and maybe even some of it recorded while in isolation. And when I get to posting the third playlist in this series, sometime in October, I feel like most of those songs will be influenced in some way by this new reality, whatever that will look like by then.

But before I get to much ahead of myself, let’s have a look at some of the highlights of this season’s playlist:

      • It all opens up with “Breathe”, the frenetic second track off Canadian indie popsters Born Ruffian‘s latest album, “Juice”
      • “The adults are talking” is a tune that I just can’t resist, the first in many years by The Strokes that has grabbed me right from the beginning and has yet to let go
      • One of my favourite Netflix series of late has been this British comedy, “Sex education”, and the soundtrack by Ezra Furman is just phenomenal and it finally saw a release this year, on which “Every feeling” is a standout track
      • I purchased I Break Horses‘s new album, “Warnings“, for my vinyl collection in May and it is quickly becoming one of my favourites of the year – just have a taste of “I’ll be the death of you” to see why
      • I saw and fell for Gateway Drugs when they opened for Swervedriver in 2015 and have been waiting for new material ever since, soooo… yes, “Wait (medication)” off this year’s “PSA” is very welcome and its production by Raveonettes’ Sune Rose Wagner definitely doesn’t hurt
      • It’s been 30 years since Pete “Sonic Boom” Kember’s last solo album but the founding member of Spaceman 3 creates quite the groove on “Just imagine” and the rest of “All things being equal” is quite lovely as well
      • A lot is being made of Phoebe Bridgers‘ sophomore record “Punisher” by the critics and I cannot fault them at all – “Kyoto” is a fine example of her mature and intelligent songwriting

For those who don’t use Spotify or if the embedded playlist below doesn’t work for you, here is the entire playlist as I’ve created it:

1. “Breathe” Born Ruffians (from the album Juice)

2. “Pringle creek” Ellis (from the album Born again)

3. “Petty drone” Mystery Jets (from the album A billion heartbeats)

4. “Alexandra” Laura Marling (from the album Song for our daughter)

5. “The adults are talking” The Strokes (from the album The new abnormal)

6. “Every feeling” Ezra Furman (from the album Sex Education soundtrack)

7. “Decade” Harkin (from the album Harkin)

8. “Nites out” Other Lives (from the album For their love)

9. “Wake UP!” Hazel English (from the album Wake UP!)

10. “Anywayz” Austra (from the album HiRUDiN)

11. “Vegetable” Happyness (from the album Floatr)

12. “I’ll be the death of you” I Break Horses (from the album Warnings)

13. “Wait (medication)” Gateway Drugs (from the album PSA)

14. “Temple” Thao & The Get Down Stay Down (from the album Temple)

15. “Instant nightmare!” The Dears (from the album Lovers rock)

16. “Hollywood Park” The Airborne Toxic Event (from the album Hollywood Park)

17. “Is this a dream” Badly Drawn Boy (from the album Banana Skin Shoes)

18. “(Don’t break my) devotion” Jade Hairpins (from the album Harmony Avenue)

19. “Just imagine” Sonic Boom (from the album All things being equal)

20. “Cameo” Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (from the album Sideways to New Italy)

21. “Red western sky” Muzz (from the album Muzz)

22. “Riding solo” Hinds (from the album The prettiest curse)

23. “Kyoto” Phoebe Bridgers (from the album Punisher)

24. “Real long gong” Rose City Band (from the album Summerlong)

25. “Hot heater” Pottery (from the album Welcome to Bobby’s Motel)

And just as I said back in April: Wherever you are in the world, I hope you are safe and continue to be well. Until next time, enjoy the tunes.

If you’re interested in checking out any of the other playlists I’ve created and shared on these pages, you can peruse them here.


Vinyl love: I Break Horses “Warnings”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: I Break Horses
Album Title: Warnings
Year released: 2020
Details: double LP, clear vinyl, gatefold sleeve

The skinny: I first came across the name I Break Horses back in 2011 and fell for the then-duo’s shoegaze-influenced debut album, “Hearts”. Then, I went to see them as the opening band on M83’s North American tour the following spring. And I Break Horses put on a blistering set, all but showing up the headliners. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as sold on their sophomore release, 2014’s “Chiascuro”, and after that, things were quiet for many years. When I heard tell that Maria Lindén was putting out a new album this year under the I Break Horses moniker, I was cautiously optimistic. When it was released, I gave it a spin on Spotify. I wasn’t even finished one go around (perhaps not even through the opening track featured below) before I was on the Bella Union website ordering this clear vinyl pressing. Yep. So far, “Warnings” is definitely one of my favourite albums of the year.

Standout track: “Turn”