Boy Harsher’s first album, 2016’s ‘Yr Body Is Nothing’, was a mildly terrifying grindhouse disco that mixed throbbing, brooding bass lines with muggy, claustrophobic beats and nihilistic, deadpan vocal delivery (“What can I give you? What do you want from me?” singer Jae Matthews intoned blankly on the title track). This new record is, in contrast, surprisingly loved-up.
To be clear: the duo, consisting of Matthews and partner August Miller, have not started to turn in acoustic ditties about rainbows and butterflies. The key elements remain intact: this is determinedly minimalistic dance music that embraces the darkest corners of the genre, cloaking itself in the shadow elements of coldwave and techno, a darkweb Confidence Man. The Savannah, Georgia band’s relationship was tumultuous and chaotic around the time of the first full-length release, but shared personal difficulties (loss and family trauma) have since bound them closer together, this album’s title a cautious acknowledgement that love can help you through the shittiest of situations – even if they feel you should keep your guard up.
‘Careful’ operates with a newly shimmering, ‘80s-influenced sound, a direction that reaches its uttermost destination on ‘Lost’. The song blooms into Technicolor, bright synth notes spilling out like streamers unravelling on a television screen – though of course this is followed by the ominous final title track, a fizzing, understated soundscape over which a man’s voice croaks, “Hey, I didn’t expect you to pick up; how are you these days? … Careful out there…”, as though we’ve stumbled on a phone call between two former lovers who should really keep their distance.
‘Face The Fire’, with its propulsive bassline overlaid with squiggles of synth, showcases the poppier end of the album, while ‘Come Closer’, all bruising beats and droned vocals (“You are my dirty little secret”), indicates that the duo haven’t lost their chilly coldwave inclinations. At their grungiest and most claustrophobic, Boy Harsher hang in similar shadows to Factory Floor and Chris Carter; at their most unguarded and upbeat, they’re letting their hair down in San Junipero.
If there’s a criticism of ‘Careful’, it may be that the duo hedge their bets a little too much; that the album lives up to its title in an unintended way, achieving neither pop lift-off nor getting its fingernails properly dirty. But these 10 tracks contain a dark power, an atavistic pull. Give in to their bad romance.