The first thing you feel when you listen to Boy Harsher is motion. Before audible drums and dark basslines give their songs shape and definition, motion defines them in a throbbing, formless mass. This motion, once feeling far away in the distance, now hurdles forward towards an endless blood-red sky. This is Careful.
“Escape is the heavy theme in Careful,” says lead singer Jae Matthews, in conversation with Phoenix New Times. “The road, the runaway, desire — all these ideas play into a abstract narrative regarding fantasy and mystery. Which, I think, is a nice way to describe Careful, if it was a film.”
The Massachusetts duo’s new LP is as fiery a film as you can make without smelling the nitrate. Spoken-word interludes and ambient waves link their murky dance moods together. In the spirit of David Lynch road movies like Wild at Heart and Lost Highway, it rockets down ominous yellow lines in search of something new — a new beginning or a dream deferred. For Boy Harsher, that road leads definitively toward the Californian coast.
“The motifs of driving and running away are just part of who Gus and I are,” Matthews says. “When you are from the Northeast, California is such a faraway alien prospect. Dreams are definitely made up around going west, and I am sure that feeling makes its way into a lot of what we write.”
“You have got a dirty little secret,” Matthews sings on “Come Closer.” “Can I keep it?” she asks, tantalizing listeners spinning in her grip. After steady rising action with singles like “LA” and “Face The Fire,” Careful’s midpoint marks its most arresting. Tracks like this one show how the band are venturing out from the punchy darkwave of their past records into more textured, all-encompassing landscapes.
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“I got really into Yello and Severed Heads after our first album,” says August Muller, the band’s production-heavy half. “They are both able to make really tough music that doesn’t take itself too seriously.” While Yello’s 1985 track “Oh Yeah” was, of course, used heavily in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, their earlier material walks a fine line between seedy reality and smirking absurdity. In their own way, Boy Harsher balance the real and the unreal in a dream state where only time will tell which way is up.
Careful marks the band’s first new release on their own label, Nude Club. “It was a tough decision,” says Muller. “We were definitely afraid to go it alone, but it was ultimately the best way.” Boy Harsher spent most of 2018 building steam, writing and recording the new record while rereleasing most of their discography independently. This energy gave them the solidarity and confidence they needed to make Careful an unflinching statement. “I wouldn’t say starting your own label is a good idea for every artist, but for us it made sense,” Muller continues. “We like being involved with every element of our releases.”
Boy Harsher hit the road in support of Careful with BOAN, another deadly electronic duo with an eye for high contrast darkwave. “José [Cota] (as SSLEEPERHOLD) played our first-ever L.A. show,” Matthews says. “He played this amazing set and I was so intimidated. But he was just super-kind and grounded — it really stuck with me. I appreciate him a lot and have loved BOAN for so long. It’s such a wild thing to get to tour with them.” Together, Boy Harsher and BOAN mark an unmissable night of dancing in the dark, so long as we all watch the road.
Boy Harsher. With BOAN. 8 p.m. Saturday, March 23, at The Rebel Lounge, 2303 East Indian School Road; therebellounge.com. Tickets are sold out.