Since their debut long player ‘Yr Body Is Nothing’ in 2016, Massachusetts duo BOY HARSHER have become an acclaimed cult proposition.
But having opened for THE SOFT MOON on their tour of 2018, their initial aloofness has mutated into the zest and ambition of the recently released ‘Careful’, possibly the first great album of 2019 and a fine musical document confronting personal demons and traumas.
Beginning their London Heaven gig with foggy blocks of light, Jae Matthews on vocals and Augustus Muller on electronics built up the drama with the schizophrenic overtones of ‘A Realness’ from their debut. But getting the first big cheers of approval was ‘Fate’, its pulsing rhythmic mantra and eerie synthetic textures encouraging deviant dancing as Matthews’ expressed her shadowy discomfort.
‘Yr Body Is Nothing’ recalled the brooding drama of the same titled debut and was followed by the abstract hypno-drone of ‘Suitor’.
Drowned in shades of red, blues, yellows and greens, Muller stood mostly passively at the controls, banging the occasional drum pad while Matthews sang and shrieked with the air of a lower register Siouxsie Sioux gone darkwave.
‘Westerners’ offered some grainy orchestra stabs to the gothic disco motif, but things got more frantic with ‘Come Closer’, its threatening ADULT. backbone providing an unsettling slice of snuff movie HI-NRG! Indeed, it was the new material from ‘Careful’ that stood out with its more focussed, less blurry vision as exemplified by the hypnotic industrial pop ‘Tears’, complete with a gloriously alluring delivery from Matthews.
Also from ‘Careful’, the brilliant sinister techno of ‘LA’ at times threatened to turn into DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Behind The Wheel’, although this was offset by Matthews’ mournful demeanour. However, show closer ‘Modulations’ probably attracted the biggest cheer of the evening from the raucous crowd, no doubt appreciating its synth-punk aesthetics.
Returning for an encore, ‘The Look You Gave (Jerry)’ summed up the substance in BOY HARSHER’s new music despite loosening their approach.
Yes, it is synthpop because it has a tune, even if it is dressed an appealingly unconventional and morose manner. The lightshow was particularly effective here with melodic green penetrating against the moody blue.
Closing with the claustrophobic ‘Pain’ from the interim ‘Lesser Man’ EP, with a bassline not that far off from a wholly electronic version of JOY DIVISION, Matthews masochistically petered on the edge of implosion exclaiming “I love pain” before departing the stage.
Sadly, ‘Face the Fire’ was not included in the set but with this performance, BOY HARSHER successfully refined their approach without losing any of their artistic edge. Both passionate and cerebral, it was wonderfully tense and exhilarating.
BOY HARSHER formed through an urgent need to produce and consume, so by the winter of 2014, Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller started to experiment with sound, video and text.
With just a few synths, a drum machine and a laptop, their second full length album ‘Careful’ was conceived in Massachusetts, with the duo utilising their minimal electronics and intense demeanour to create a compelling narrative of a deteriorating family and a need to escape from it, expressing an understanding of love and loss, fear and joy, tenderness and pain.
An introductory mood piece ‘Keep Driving’ opens ‘Careful’ with a building percussive mantra, but the stark drama of ‘Face The Fire’ is eerie and unsettling while also accessible, with driving drum machine rhythms and cosmic synth hooks all present and correct, despite Jae Matthews’ expressions of discomfort. Meanwhile, ‘Fate’ is a brilliant sister song to ‘Face The Fire’, coming over like ADULT. meeting THE KVB with hints of SAVAGES too.
‘LA’ features a wonderfully incongruous mix of icy string synths and orchestra stabs for an enticing display of mutant electronic disco, but brilliantly sinister thanks to its varied use of effects and Matthews’ mournful demeanour. Things get even more urgent and frantic with the pulsating ‘Come Closer’, its rhythmically threatening backbone and fraught tension providing an uneasy but thrilling listen!
What is captivating about ‘Careful’ is the fabulous range of synthetic sounds on display, as exemplified by ‘The Look You Gave (Jerry)’, a perfect number for those seeking substance craving a darker edge to their synthpop… and yes BOY HARSHER are pop because they do have tunes, even if they dress them up in an appealingly unconventional and morose manner.
‘Tears’ follows the pattern laid down of ‘Careful’, strangely chunky and danceable with Matthews all deviantly alluring, while the more abstract ‘Crush’ takes proceedings down in a suitably claustrophobic manner. A steadfast hypnotism appropriately directs ‘Lost’ towards the final straight before a short cerebral conceptual piece for the closing title track.
With ‘Careful’, BOY HARSHER have refined their template without losing any of their unsettling edge. This is the first really great album of 2019, with the six song sequence from ‘Face The Fire’ to ‘Tears’ particularly outstanding.
With that, the final third does suffer slightly in comparison but this does not detract from what an excellent work this is, a fine musical document confronting personal demons and traumas.
Following up the moody cosmic synthpop of ‘Face The Fire’, Massachusetts duo BOY HARSHER have issued a second single ‘Fate’ from their forthcoming sophomore album ‘Careful’.
Coming over a bit like ADULT. meeting THE KVB, the pairing of Jae Matthews and Augustus Muller first started working together in 2014 through a need to produce and consume, experimenting with sound, video and text.
Their first full length album ‘Yr Body is Nothing’ came out in 2016 and featured the gloomy single ‘Last Days’. ‘Fate’ is comparatively brighter but no less introspective, with a spiky electronic hook and hypnotic staccato bass line laced with Matthews’ hazy nonchalant vocals and layers of disconcerting synthesizers.
“This song is about how there’s no amount of running that will prevent you from your life” the duo explain, “You are raw and beat-down, yet you will continue to behave the same way – Fate is your own trouble, a magnetic force that’s stuck on you forever.”
With suitably blood curdling horror video directed by Bryan M. Ferguson recalling the Scarlet Johansson art horror flick ‘Under The Skin’ but without the nudity, it too was also filmed in Glasgow, the city where you go out for a laugh but leave in stiches…
Out in February 2019 via their own Nude Club Records imprint, ‘Careful’ is said to see BOY HARSHER “use the medium of minimal electronics to create a compelling narrative of a deteriorating family and the reaction to run away from it”.
Embroiled in Matthews and Muller’s emotional surroundings and potentially self-destructive creative tension, it attempts “to detail the enveloping trauma of loss combined with the fantasy of escape”.
‘Fate’ is from upcoming album ‘Careful’ released on 1st February 2019 by Nude Club Records
BOY HARSHER play the following UK dates in 2019: Bristol Lanes (24th February), Leeds Wharf Chambers (25th February), Manchester Soup Kitchen (26th February), London Heaven (27th February)
The world found itself in a rather antagonistic and divisive state this year, as if none of the lessons from the 20th Century’s noted conflicts and stand-offs had been learnt.
Subtle political messages came with several releases; honorary Berliner MARK REEDER used the former divided city as symbolism to warn of the dangers of isolationism on his collaborative album ‘Mauerstadt’. Meanwhile noted Francophile Chris Payne issued the ELECTRONIC CIRCUS EP ‘Direct Lines’ with its poignant warning of nuclear apocalypse in its title song. The message was to unite and through music as one of the best platforms.
After a slow start to 2017, there was a bumper crop of new music from a number of established artists. NINE INCH NAILS and GARY NUMAN refound their mojo with their respective ‘Add Violence’ and ‘Savage (Songs From A Broken World)’ releases, with the latter recording his best body of work since his imperial heyday.
But the first quarter of the year was hamstrung by the anticipation for the 14th DEPECHE MODE long player ‘Spirit’, with other labels and artists aware that much of their potential audience’s hard earned disposable income was being directed towards the Basildon combo’s impending album and world tour.
Yet again, reaction levels seemed strangely muted as ‘Spirit’ was another creative disappointment, despite its angry politicised demeanour.
Rumours abounded that the band cut the album’s scheduled recording sessions by 4 weeks. This inherent “that’ll do” attitude continued on the ‘Global Spirit’ jaunt when the band insulted their loyal audience by doing nothing more than plonking an arena show into a stadium for the summer outdoor leg.
Despite protestations from some Devotees of their dissatisfaction with this open-air presentation, they were content to be short-changed again as they excitedly flocked to the second set of European arena dates with the generally expressed excuse that “it will be so much better indoors”.
By this Autumn sojourn, only three songs from ‘Spirit’ were left in the set, thus indicating that the dire record had no longevity and was something of a lemon.
Suspicions were finally confirmed at the ‘Mute: A Visual Document’ Q&A featuring Daniel Miller and Anton Corbijn, when the esteemed photographer and visual director confessed he did not like the album which he did the artwork for… see, it’s not just The Electricity Club 😉
Devotees are quick to say all criticism of DEPECHE MODE is unfair, but the band can’t help but make themselves easy targets time and time again. But why should the band care? The cash is coming, the cash is coming…
The Wirral lads demonstrated what the word spirit actually meant on their opus ‘The Punishment Of Luxury’, while the former class mate of Messrs Gore and Fletcher demonstrated what a soulful, blues-influenced electronic record should sound like with ‘Other’.
As Tony Hadley departed SPANDAU BALLET and Midge Ure got all ‘Orchestrated’ in the wake of ULTRAVOX’s demise, the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ album directed by Rusty Egan, to which they contributed, became a physical reality in 2017.
Now if DM plonked an arena show into the world’s stadiums, KRAFTWERK put a huge show into a theatre. The publicity stunt of 2012, when Tate Modern’s online ticket system broke down due to demand for their eight album live residency, did its job when the Kling Klang Quartett sold out an extensive UK tour for their 3D concert spectacular.
No less impressive, SOULWAX wowed audiences with their spectacular percussion heavy ‘From Deewee’ show and gave a big lesson to DEPECHE MODE as to how to actually use live drums correctly within an electronic context.
Mute Artists were busy with releases from ERASURE, LAIBACH and ADULT. but it was GOLDFRAPP’s ‘Silver Eye’ that stole the show from that stable. LCD SOUNDSYSTEM returned after seven years with their ‘American Dream’ and it was worth the wait, with the most consistent and electronic record that James Murphy’s ensemble has delivered in their career.
2017 was a year that saw acts who were part of the sine wave of Synth Britannia but unable to sustain or attain mainstream success like BLUE ZOO, B-MOVIE, FIAT LUX and WHITE DOOR welcomed back as heroes, with their talent belatedly recognised.
Across the Baltic Sea, Finnish producer JORI HULKKONEN released his 20th album ‘Don’t Believe In Happiness’ while nearby in Russia, a duo named VEiiLA showcased an unusual hybrid of techno, opera and synthpop and ROSEMARY LOVES A BLACKBERRY offered a ‘❤’.
One of the year’s discussion points was whether Synthwave was just synthpop dressed with sunglasses and neon signs but whatever, Stateside based Scots but MICHAEL OAKLEY and FM-84 made a good impression with their retro-flavoured electronic tunes.
Female solo artists had strong presence in 2017 as FEVER RAY made an unexpected return, ZOLA JESUS produced her best work to date in ‘Okovi’ and HANNAH PEEL embarked on an ambitious synth / brass ‘Journey to Cassiopeia’. Meanwhile, SARAH P. asked ‘Who Am I’ and MARNIE found ‘Strange Words & Weird Wars’ as ANI GLASS and NINA both continued on their promising developmental path.
Respectively, Ireland and Scotland did their bit, with TINY MAGNETIC PETS and their aural mix of SAINT ETIENNE and KRAFTWERK successfully touring with OMD in support of their excellent second album ‘Deluxe/Debris’, while formed out of the ashes of ANALOG ANGEL, RAINLAND wowed audiences opening for ASSEMBLAGE 23.
Despite getting a positive response, both iEUROPEAN and SOL FLARE parted ways while on the opposite side of the coin, Belgian passengers METROLAND celebrated five years in the business with the lavish ‘12×12’ boxed set
Overall in 2017, it was artists of a more mature disposition who held their heads high and delivered, as some newer acts went out of their way to test the patience of audiences by drowning them in sleep while coming over like TRAVIS on VSTs.
With dominance of media by the three major labels, recognition was tricky with new quality traditional synthpop not generally be championed by the mainstream press. With Spotify now 20% owned by those three majors, casual listeners to the Swedish streaming platform were literally told what to like, as with commercial radio playlists.
It is without doubt that streaming and downloading has created a far less knowledgeable music audience than in previous eras, so Rusty Egan’s recent online petition to request platforms to display songwriting and production credits was timely; credit where credit is due as they say…
While The Electricity Club does not dismiss Spotify totally and sees it as another tool, it should not be considered the be all and end all, in the same way vinyl is not the saviour of the music industry and in physics terms, cannot handle the same dynamic range as CD.
Music is not as emotionally valued as it was before… that’s not being old and nostalgic, that is reality. It can still be enjoyed with or without a physical purchase, but for artists to be motivated to produce work that can connect and be treasured, that is another matter entirely.
However, many acts proved that with Bandcamp, the record company middle man can be eliminated. It is therefore up to the listener to be more astute, to make more effort and to make informed choices. And maybe that listener has to seek out reliable independent media for guidance.
However, as with the shake-up within the music industry over the last ten years, that can only be a good thing for the true synthpop enthusiast. And as it comes close to completing its 8th year on the web, The Electricity Club maintains its position of not actually promoting new acts or supporting any scene, but merely to write about the music it likes and occasionally stuff it doesn’t… people can make their own mind up about whether to invest money or time in albums or gigs.
Yes, things ARE harder for the listener and the musician, but the effort is worthwhile 😉
A rather elaborate manifesto from the Michigan duo ADULT. sums up the artistic undertaking that is ‘Detroit House Guests’ – “Let us explore new modes of music making” they said…
“Let us take the intensity of the studio session and drop it into the home. If the ‘avant-garde’ is thought to be un-domestic then what impact does this domestic situation have on the shape and sound of our project? Can the radical even exist inside the domestic? It’s so private in the home. How vulnerable are we? Are the shades down and the curtains drawn? Can we become out of order? A rug turned at a slight angle, resisting not to straighten it as you pass by. The merger of soft and dark sides, melodic voices and angular jabs, organic and pre-programmed, dinner parties and carry out. A dislocated and disjointed dance.”
ADULT. are Detroit duo Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller. They played their first live show together in Germany in 1997 as ARTIFICIAL MATERIAL. Using the moniker PLASMA CO. they released their first undertakings, following by further releases under the name ADULT.
Apart from numerous albums and EPs, the pair has remixed the likes of PET SHOP BOYS, TUXEDO MOON, JOHN FOXX, DEATH IN VEGAS and THE FAINT amongst and others. But music isn’t their primary source of fulfilment. Both being acclaimed artists, Kuperus and Miller also make sculpture, paintings, films, photographs, performances, videos and installations.
The general idea behind ‘Detroit House Guests’ was to invite various artists to reside in ADULT’s studio for the duration of three weeks, to live, work and collaborate together in order to achieve “a total anthropological sound experiment and a full length album.”
The finished product features collaborations with a whole host of musicians and artists.
They include Douglas J McCarthy from NITZER EBB, Michael Gira from SWANS, Shannon Funchess from LIGHT ASYLUM, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe aka LICHENS, Austrian thereminist Dorit Chrysler and multidisciplinary artist Lun*na Menoh.
The two Doug McCarthy tracks are a true highlight of this production. ‘We Are A Mirror’ and ‘They’re Just Words’ are artistic masterpieces a la endeavours by GAZELLE TWIN. Doris Chrysler is ‘Inexhaustible’ in a very much a typical Mute track, filled with simplistic synth and tribal accents.
A bit of guitar is introduced on ‘Breathe On’ featuring Michael Gira and die-hard fans of vintage NIRVANA are bound to intercept the obvious connotations, with the addition of the female vocal nodding towards some good old grunge.
‘Into The Drum’ floats in and out of consciousness over COCTEAU TWINS-like noises and ‘This Situation’ undergoes magic shifts to achieve the status of a supreme art form, leading onto ‘As You Dream’. The closing track multiplies the emotion by the manifestation of eclectic sounds catalysing interesting vocals and chant-esque sequences.
‘We Chase The Sound’ brings back the minimalistic bass synth and brave voice overlays, sounding uncannily like NITZER EBB sans McCarthy, but with the snarl of Shannon Funchess.
‘Uncomfortable Positions’ are “uncomfortably cosy”, while ‘Stop (and Start Again)’ hit with the bass guitar and Siouxie inspired vocal.
The ‘Detroit House Guests’ project concept was conceived in the early 2000s and became a reality in 2014 after receiving a John S and James L Knight Foundation grant. The eclectic choice of vocalists, musicians and artists shapes this album into a concoction which will particularly lure the lovers of arty electronica.
It’s not your melodic, well behaved synth; it’s gritty, disjointed and cultured… it’s a very different kind of aesthetic, yet very in keeping with classic Mute offerings.