Synth-pop duo Boy Harsher visits behind a versatile new album. Info/tix
Northampton, Massachusetts duo Boy Harsher doesn't always put the abrasion up front, and instead finds more subtle ways to rattle. Since 2013, vocalist Jae Matthews and producer Augustus Muller have fused their talents to make synthpop records that groove and chill in equal measure. The fact that they were originally named Teen Dreamz feels instructive—especially on their newest record, this year’s Careful, the band’s music seems to be born out of a curdling of something originally more nostalgic.
The band is keenly aware of the fine balance that darkwave requires, bookending the dancier core of Careful with two more mood-focused tracks. “Keep Driving” opens the album with sickly detuned drones straight out of a horror film, while “Careful” closes the record with a clever subversion of the voicemails-as-album-tracks trope that features a voicemail you’d be more likely to submit as part of a police report. Between these creepy pieces are plenty of the gloriously danceable retro synths and drum machines one expects, with the vocals still doing plenty of emotional heavy lifting. Matthews’ sensuous performance guides the record through complex emotional spaces both wounded and commanding, intimate and hostile. It’s the type of performance that elevates a club (or bar) to more of a theater, to thrilling effect. Boy Harsher's tour with Spellling (the moniker of Oakland producer/vocalist Tia Cabral, and yes the extra L is supposed to be there) gets a special addition here with an opening set from Madison duo Klack, a collaboration between Caustic's Matt Fanale and Null Device's Eric Oehler. The two talked with us recently about why their playfully retro EBM is catching on. —Maxwell Courtright