On their new album The Runner, Boy Harsher expand the remit of their work, situating their signature dark electro-pop amid a set of alternative avenues implied, but unexplored in their earlier offerings. It comes in part as a response to the domestic setting imposed over the Covid years, which took away the natural context for the creation of what they refer to as “club music”. The process going into the project also served as a form of catharsis for the duo in the face of their own personal struggles, with Jae Matthews’ MS diagnosis in particular being cited by the group in discussing the release.
The 28-minute album is framed as a soundtrack to an accompanying short film created by the band. Under the proudly displayed banner of an Official Soundtrack, the duo lean into the sense of drama and shadow created by their music. Opener ‘Tower’ sets out the stall, with ribbons of synth pulse, heartbreakingly unravelling around the mantra ‘you don’t want to know me,’ before eventually exploding into an epic, howling climax. Other tracks like the closing pair ‘Untitled’ and ‘I Understand’ offer time for the listener to breathe and create a sense of narrative within the music, even in isolation from its intended visual accompaniment.
The form also provides a context for excursions into a range of genres, which gives the album the pace of jukebox soundtracks like Morvern Callar and Jubilee (the latter evidently a key influence on the film itself, as the recently released ‘Machina’ section shows.) This effect is heightened by the inclusion of other voices to Matthews on the album, which furthers its dynamic range. Alongside alternately danceable and ambient tracks credited solely to Boy Harsher are features from Mariana Saldaña on ‘Machina’, a robot rock floor-filler, and Cooper B. Handy (aka Lucy) on the antiheroic anthem ‘Autonomy’, a great would-be retro-futuristic pop tune made unique by their distinctive voice and its spartan production treatment.
The unusual conceptual approach to this album makes for a compelling and refreshingly various collection of songs. In spite of its brevity, we find ourselves on a genuinely cinematic journey across these 8 tracks. Perhaps what is most impressive is its assimilation of this new range of sounds and the voices of other artists into something that still feels distinctively like a Boy Harsher release, an impressive feat given the difference in approach and context for its creation. In creating The Runner universe, complete with the motion picture, the duo have managed to craft a world for their music to inhabit in the absence of its natural real-life context.
Boy Harsher’s new album The Runner is released on 21st Jan via Nude Club/City Slang
Photo Credit: Jordan Hemmingway