Switched On – Liela Moss: Internal Working Model (Bella Union)

by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Former Duke Spirit vocalist Liela Moss has big plans for her third solo album. Co-written with her partner Toby Butler, Internal Working Model sees her ‘imagining a tribe, navigating away from our very centralized culture, dismantling it and revising the way I think things work’.

Central to her principles are the idea of cooperation rather than competition, and the idea that we should be speaking out more against global manipulators, greed and corruption. To that end, her and Butler chose a more upfront, electronic sound than she has used previously, and also some notable guests – Gary Numan, The Savages’ Jehnny Beth and Dhani Harrison.

What’s the music like?

Sticking to its brief, Internal Working Model presents a bold musical language. Moss is a compelling vocalist, taking charge from the outset and making her points with poise and conviction.

Empathy Files is a very strong opener, both musically and lyrically, with a sinister undertone as the chorus notes, “We’ve got data for miles on you”. Another standout song is Vanishing Shadows, where Moss and Gary Numan have a compelling frisson between the voices, not to mention a standout chorus. Ache In The Middle presents stronger tones of regret (“I could have been so happy, there would have been peace”), while the preceding The Wall From The Floor also speaks with anguished tones. “I can’t tell the wall from the floor any more”, she sings.

The drums play a bit part on Internal Working Model, adding power to Come And Find Me and ballast to the final call to arms, Love As Hard As You Can. With guest Dhani Harrison, Moss signs off on a high, looking to the future with renewed optimism and a steely gaze.

Does it all work?

Largely. Moss has a powerful message to bring, and delivers it with wholly convincing vocals. The electro production has bags of attitude too. On occasion more distinctive melodies would be welcome in the songs, to match the fine production.

Is it recommended?

Yes. As a statement of intent, and a rousing call for the start of a new year, Internal Working Model is a resolute piece of work. Moss is a compelling singer, a voice pushing to be heard.

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Switched on – I Break Horses: Warning (Bella Union)

What’s the story?

It may have been a while since we last heard from Swedish duo I Break Horses, but they have used the time productively, despite several obstacles in their way.

Principle songwriter and singer Maria Lindén was working in cinematic accompaniments to her own favourite films when she realised the instrumentals were well on the way to becoming the basis for a new I Break Horses album.

The band’s plans were thwarted, however, by crashed hardware – two years of work lost – and collaborations that didn’t quite work, meaning Warnings took a while to break cover. It does however include the fruits of Lindén’s film scoring, with three instrumental interludes to complement the broad canvas of the songs.

What’s the music like?

The first since 2014’s well received Chiaroscuro, Warnings is another winner – and draws on the styles used in that long player. The band are at ease working in larger song structures, and as the epic nine-minute opening track Turn unfolds in its deceptively languid triple time there is an exquisite tension between the well-crafted production and Lindén’s glacial vocals.

The musical secret to their success lies in the heart-shifting changes of harmony that plumb the emotional depths. The macabre I’ll Be The Death Of You has these in abundance, despite its premonition, while Baby You Have Travelled For Miles Without Love In Your Eyes also moves in mysterious ways, the slow and stately shifts in harmony matched by a full bodied percussion section. Lindén’s vocals here are a little reminiscent of Lana del Rey, while the production often brings Cocteau Twins to mind – and label mates Beach House, whose producer Chris Coady is utilised here.

Elsewhere the glittering synths and quickfire drums of Neon Lights rush by, in complete contrast to the stately vocals, while Death Engine is a thing of wonder. Again utilising a big drum track, and enough reverb for an aircraft hangar, it has beautiful vocals to fit its grand designs, but moves up a level when a softly undulating riff emerges just over halfway through.

The instrumental interludes are short mood pieces, the last one leading to a similarly short coda, Depression Tourist a block of vocoded thoughts to sign off on.

Does it all work?

Yes. Although I Break Horses have an established way of writing it is very distinctive, so they are far from one-trick ponies. There is a lot of emotion here, too, despite the sometimes deadpan nature of Lindén’s vocals. She holds a note with husky beauty, part of the overall sound which the listener can easily dive into. Final track Depression Tourist feels tagged on, but by then the album has already made its impact.

Is it recommended?

It is. Warnings may be a deeply serious, even moody album – but it is an ultimately uplifting one too. Despite its ominous titles and subject matter the dreamscapes this pair can create leave the listener in elevation.

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