August 2011


I Break Horses have been a weird band for me to review. At first I didn’t undestand them. Then I got it, and I really enjoyed it. Then, when I reviewed them I got all confused again, but in a good way. Where I stand now is a sort of befuddled admiration, and I think that comes across in this piece I wrote for For Folk’s Sake. Also, that’s an awesome press photograph.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say I Break Horses have been created by a fiendish group of artists simply to confound music critics and disprove our own, limited art. As an explanation, here are the facts about the band as they stand:

  • Swedish
  • Duo
  • Female singer
  • Synth-heavy
  • Openly influenced by My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Jesus & Mary Chain

So, as a lazy reviewer with pretensions of music knowledge and creative thinking, I will offer you my uninformed opinion of I Break Horses’ debut album, Hearts:

‘Hearts is a curious mix of the brute force of classic shoegaze noise and the Swedish tendency towards lilting, pop melody – think My Valentine (Bloody) or the Björn and Agnetha Chain.’

To be honest, to a certain extent, Hearts is essentially just that. All of those elements (stupid band name reconfiguration notwithstanding) are certainly present and more certainly curious. But the experience of listening to Hearts is far removed from simply discussing it. You see, the limitation of music criticism is its innate inability to explain the true form and flow of a great album, the way it takes you from one place to another in an entirely sensuous fashion, quite apart from any process of thought that may go along with it. And this is why Hearts succeeds in what I believe to be its insidious quest to bring down music criticism from within. The band are Trojan Horses if you will (hur hur).

If you, like me, take the facts into consideration then from the outset you will be confused. ‘Winter Beats’ opens the album with ascending, stadium-sized synths growing from seed to stem to great big anthemic tree. Shoegaze is not about anthems. Swedish pop music is not about anthems. But somehow the two combine to make one – this is rousing, huge music that simply doesn’t let up, so much so that instead of simply ending, its outro becomes the title track’s intro, at which point the shoegaze takes over, those synths are pushed into fuzzy overdrive, vocals become indecipherable and your ears break. As what is essentially a two-part, multi-genre, eight minute song comes to an end it resolves in a monotone blare of brass. This is weird.

Blissful confusion reigns throughout Hearts. ‘Wired’ is a chugging guitar and drum rhythm monster aided by a glittery synth reprise, ‘Cancer’ is a shimmering, shuddering dirge that sounds like Beach House performing a funeral march and ‘Empty Bottles’ could be (and, I imagine will be) the soundtrack to a particularly tearjerking redemption in an indie rom-com. Probably in the rain. Every track is long enough to challenge your opinion of the album as a whole in some way, but it never feels disconnected, primarily due to Maria Lindén’s sweet, resonant vocals which, although cloaked by noise most of the time, act as the one stable element, drawing every changing sound in around them.

You could ask, if the whole point of this review is to explain why music reviews are limited by the use of language, and particularly limited in this case, why I bothered to write one at all. Good point. However, my (albeit possibly impossible) remit is to sufficiently explain why a review of Hearts is representative of only half of the response you’ll get from it. You will, like me, be forced to think about the music – its origins, the results of those origins, and the results of those results – music like this is simply not being made elsewhere. However, you will, in listening, be swept over with sensations that I can’t hope to describe – big ones, happy ones, awed ones. The results of great music are most often emotional and sensual before thoughtful and, it cannot be overstated, Hearts is great music. Listen to it and find out what I mean.

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Deaf Club are pulling a nice little trick. Woozy atmospherics, slow tempo and echoey, echoey reverb all seem to suggest the kind of art-dream-sleepy-pop I love in the work of The xx or Beach House, and their debut EP’s artwork doesn’t exactly excise the idea of beachy chillwave from the mind, but, really, if you strip it all down, this is a whole heap louder than any of that gentile, loved-up stuff. It’s fair to say that Deaf Club rock – just very slowly.

Despite this, ‘Hana’ would seem to disprove me immediately. Trickling guitar work and a slumberous drumbeat do not a rock song make, and when the lead singer’s vocals appear, masked in shadowy production as they are, you might write me and my fabulous opinions off completely. But wait for the song to step up, hear those beats move up a gear and soon even the relatively sedate verses sound a little beefier. By the end of the song that familiar production remains, but the mood has not. 7-minute closer ‘Postcard’ takes a similar course, with guitars growing like time-lapsed plant growth, entwining around rich emotive vocals until there’s no room for them left and crash cymbals and anthemic, echoing melodies become par for the course before fading almost as slowly. This isn’t so much dream-pop as sleepwalk-pop – there’s action here cloaked under the familiarity of a calmer aesthetic.

Deaf Club have crafted what should be ponderous, quiet and contemplative into an EP that is all too short, unexpectedly exciting and gloriously double-edged. There is an obvious talent here for two separate genres, and whether they go one way, the other, or both for their next release will be more than some of the fun. Get the whole self-titled release for free on their Bandcamp page.

Deaf Club – Postcard (YSI)

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When I started posting up these episodes, I was enthused. ‘So!’, thought I, ‘I will have an extra post every week. Good!’

Bad.

Turns out, my subconscious is very convincing in telling me that I’ve actually posted more than I have. I promise I will attempt to rectify that this week.

The Flaming Lips – The Sound of Failure (YSI)

Illogical Time Concerns is the (mostly) solo project of one John Ricksen, a San Francisco native who has been releasing his music for free since 2004. An ever-changing mix of sounds ranging from electronic to folk, this is a perfect example of ‘bedroom’ music at its mutable, unhindered best, and I wanted to ask John how he came upon the idea of the project as a whole. So I did that.

MFAGW: When and how did Illogical Time Concerns start?

JR: After my college band broke up (I was the singer) I knew that I had to still be involved in making music moving forward. I had always messed around on guitars but decided to take lessons for 3 months and practice extensively so I could make my own songs to sing on. I was also taking a class to learn how to record songs on Pro Tools.

Over the course of your releases, you cover some fairly disparate sonic ground. Post AD seems like dream pop, Hydrocodone is folky and Humn Traffic is almost ambient in places – is Illogical Time Concerns simply a creative/musical outlet for you or has there been a progression of interests over time?

Every year since ITC was created (2004) I’ve made between 1 and 2 albums / year.  The tone of the albums in my mind has always been a mix of shoegaze ambience with DIY bedroom pop production but each release definitely has its own personality and feel that is probably very related to what was inspiring me at the time.  The albums I currently have on the site are the ones that I thought people would get into the most (they are also the most recent).

How would you class the sound of Illogical Time Concerns?

Ambient/Dreamgaze/Bedroom Pop/Indie.  The sound of age.

Do you play Illogical Time Concerns’ music live?

I have played some songs in very intimate settings, but ITC mainly exists as a recording entity.

Do you have any artists you consider to be major influences on your solo work?

Tough one because it’s always changing.  I wrote out these influences a long time ago on my myspace:  Ambient Eno, Feel Good Lost, Lennon, Neil, Joy Division, NM Hotel, The Edge, VU, BSS, BJTM, Pavement, Radio Dept. MBV, Atlas Sound, Sigur Ros, AF, Basement Tapes, Kid A.

Does your work with Collider [John’s full band] ever spill over into Illogical Time Concerns or vice versa?

It has and does.  ITC existed before Collider materialized and was my primary source of songwriting in the years leading up to the present Collider lineup.  I used one of the first songs I ever wrote as ITC “The Neon” to recruit bandmates via Craigslist.  Once Collider was established the writing in the band was always pretty collective and democratic so it became necessary for me to identify some of my ideas as being more of an ITC tone or more of a Collider tone and then deciding which route they should be pursued and released.  A lot of the more recent ITC releases have included a number of songs that were at one time intended for Collider releases but ended up not sitting with the track lists or flow of the records.

The British music industry has just announced another set of huge losses, do you find releasing your music for free has increased interest in Illogical Time Concerns as a project? If so, was it a conscious decision to release in this way?

I’ve always given the music away.  I want the music to be timeless and have the ability to reach as many people as possible.  A lot of records that I’m into lately have been free to download and I see that as a trend that is going to continue.

‘Bedroom’ music has become a far bigger prospect in recent years – why do you think that is? Do you think it will have an effect on the music industry as a whole?

Bedroom music just makes sense to me.  The technology has evolved to the point where its affordable and easy enough to allow anyone to make a record and release it themselves via the internet.   It’s very empowering for artists to make what they want, when they want, and do whatever they like with it.  I think it opens up the doors to the music community for everyone to have a voice and have a way to share their art with the world over the internet.

What can we expect from your next release?

I’m always working on songs, and at this point the new songs feel like they have the most energy that ITC has had in some time.  My plan was for the next release to feel big and emphasize movement and be released before the end of the year, and then record a very ambient underwater album starting in 2012.

I’ve put a couple of my favourite tracks below, but John has very kindly made his entire ITC discography (which you can see lovingly stitched together at the top of this very post) available to download, for free, on his Bandcamp page for the next 48 hours or so. If you like what you hear, I highly recommend you get a hold of any or all of that while you can – this is the sound of the possibilities and outlets musicians have nowadays and, quite apart from any interesting cultural concerns, it’s just bloody good music.

Illogical Time Concerns – City 2 (YSI) – From the Hydrocodone digital 7″
Illogical Time Concerns – Deciio (YSI) – From Post AD

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It’s Sunday, it’s past 1pm and that means you missed my radio show again, didn’t you? Don’t worry, I’m not angry with you. Just play that little embedded podcast above and we’ll forget it ever happened. Ok?

This Is Ivy League – London Bridges (YSI)

There’s something that seems innately stilted about country music. Maybe it’s the conservative politics, or the fact that they dress like they’re still in the 1800s, but I can never shake the feeling that country singers, and country music by extension, just can’t be “modern”. But in putting together this week’s radio show (WHICHYOUCANLISTENTOONSUNDAYATTWELVEPM) a couple of the tracks I included made me feel the keen sting of folly.

Other Lives’ first single from their upcoming album, Tamer Animals, ‘For 12’, is a whirlpool of a track, dark acoustics and strings shimmering into the centre of your attention before being sucked away again, but amonst all of this lies a constant guitar and percussion hoofbeat, amended by occasional electric twangs – almost art-country in its own peculiar way. Milk Maid’s ‘Girl’ on the other hand marries an unbelievably memorable melody with an undulating country rock guitar to supremely catchy, cool effect; making a lo-fi garage track that dares to be comprehensible. In choosing to pick up stale tropes and freshen them up, it’s bands like these that force me to realise that music will always reinvent and that originality stems from innovation rather than inspiration most often.

Other Lives – For 12 (YSI)
Milk Maid – Girl (YSI)
The Blues Brothers -Them From Rawhide (YSI)

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Today, DIY Radio broadcast the first episode of my new weekly show, The Folk Bloke, and that’s what you can see above. If you like the kind of thing I post here, you’re more than likely to approve of the show, so please do listen in. Please? Oh, go on. Please?

Metronomy – Radio Ladio (YSI)

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