The first few days after a cross-country move are always strange, and the feeling is amplified even more if you end up in a college town in the listless week before classes start. The rooms are unadorned, angular, and work-in-processes, with posters dangling and refrigerators looking like unfinished paintings. The city tends to loom over you with both intimidation and possibility – populated with future friends and love interests; you bumble through your new environment trying to figure out how kinship happens in the time beyond home-room teachers and small group projects. During these monotonous hours, where days blend into weeks and you start to vocalize thoughts just to prove your ability to speak, it’s nice to have something big, fuzzy, and genuinely warm as Hearts to wrap yourself in.
I Break Horses, and its headmaster Maria Lindén, helm a deeply Scandinavian sound, harnessing the apparently region-exclusive ability to sculpt gorgeous slabs of electronic virtuosity from walls of immovable ice. I’m not sure if opener ‘Winter Beats’ is a nod to that particular knack, but I hope it is, something that beautiful deserves its sincerity. An incandescent, synthesized arpeggio gently turns over on itself, joined by faraway drums and Lindén’s husky, accented cadence. Then it all goes away and comes rushing furiously back, quite possibly the oldest trick in the book but it certainly feels true here – it’s hard to conduct organic euphoria in a laboratory, especially when its compared to the real thing. The only words I can make out? “You and me,” perfect.
Nothing comes close to that towering beginning, but the rest of Hearts seems wise enough not to try. There’s the shuttering, staccato-noise envelopment of the title track, the cavernous, amniotic float of ‘I Kill Your Love, Baby!’ the beatific, string-swelling abdomen to ‘Pulse,’ the churchy build to ‘Cancer,’ and of course, the stampeding, wink-and-nod ‘No Way Outro.’ The rest of the album is like a head-spinning hallucination following the initial showstopper, Lindén makes sure her mix is entirely filled with earthquake, out-of-focus blear – not really a meditation, more like a trance, ideal for setting suns and great emotional revelations.
It’s easy to hope, or even to fool yourself that Hearts is better than it is, and that’s probably due to the residual glitter of ‘Winter Beats” sprawl. The eight tracks that follow don’t have the same power, almost unwittingly dwarfed by the knowledge of what the project is capable of.
I have no doubt that some of my fellow writers have already sunken deeply in love with Hearts, and I understand the feeling, something with arms this wide is hard to deny. I’m just not sure how it’ll sound in 2012, or 2013 – not that it’ll matter, I Break Horses will have put out better records by then, the intense radiation of Hearts may be fleeting, but it definitely deserves to be basked in.