Without context or backstory it would be easy to assume Maria Lindén wrote Warnings, the third album by I Break Horses, specifically during the coronavirus lockdown as a soundtrack for these bizarre times.
It wasn’t, of course. In fact, the album took six years, beginning shortly after 2014’s Chiaroscuro, through good times and bad for both the artist and the world in general. Coincidentally, its release falls right in a period in which its sprawling feel and scope provide an ideal score for the disaster movie we’re all living in.
The cinematic feel is no accident. The album began, according to Lindén, with her watching some of her favorite movies on mute and outlining new scores for them based purely on the visuals. She didn’t specify what she watched but based on the product one would assume it’s heavy on David Lynch. The meandering synths scattered throughout mirror the actual score for “Twin Peaks” and most of the album sounds like 1997’s “Lost Highway” looks.
It begins with the nine-minute “Turn,” an expansive track that manages to simultaneously be percussive and ethereal. The melancholy electronic instrumentals, punctuated by a slow but thumping beat, combined with shoegaze-style vocals recreates the feel of a lonely shelter-in-place during a global catastrophe—with remarkable accuracy, even if that wasn’t the intent.
But the lockdown isn’t a one-dimensional experience and the album reflects that. The second song, “Silence,” slightly increases the tempo and adds vague hints of a tropical undertone at points, while maintaining the foundational melancholic tension.
The earliest break from that tone is the album’s second single “I’ll Be the Death of You,” which is ironic because it’s probably the closest the album comes to the band’s earlier output. It’s a poppier, more upbeat-sounding song, despite its nihilistic lyrics. The disconnect between the sound and what’s being said adds additional complexity upon repeat listenings. And the intro sounds like the theme song for a “Double-Dragon”-style game in an early ’90s arcade that, for a nerdy audience in a certain age group, is a nice burst of nostalgia.
After a second largely forgettable interlude, the album’s third single, “The Prophet,” goes back to its central feel and tone. So far back to that tone, in fact, that it acts as a sort of average of the rest of the songs, equidistant between them all but capturing elements from each. This isn’t a criticism. In fact, it’s a helpful barometer. If you like “The Prophet” you’ll probably enjoy the album, but if you don’t you probably won’t.
Beyond a couple variations on the album’s song archetypes—the upbeat “Neon Lights,” the dark and wistful “I Live At Night” and “Baby You Have Traveled For Miles Without Love In Your Eyes”—comes the album’s first single and possibly the darkest song, “Death Machine.” It details the suicide attempt of one of Lindén’s friends, and aims to reflect the widespread hopelessness of an entire generation. That may be too dark for a time with so many other things going on, but based purely on the depth and the music, it’s likely to eventually be one of the favorites.
Overall, Warnings functions extremely well as a soundtrack to life right now. If you prefer music appropriate to the situation as a sort of reflection or catharsis of what you’re feeling, this may be the album for you. And once this is all over it could serve as a sort of auditory historical document to remind you what this was like, to bring back the feelings associated with this time.
Even if that wasn’t the intent, sometimes timing is everything.
Follow editor Daniel J. Willis at Twitter.com/BayAreaData.