ALBUM: Boy Harsher – ‘The Runner’

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

Follow Boy Harsher on bandcamp, Spotify, Instagram, Twitter & Facebook

Photo Credit: Jordan Hemmingway

Lloyd Bolton

@franklloydwleft
@lloyd_bolton

ALBUM: Helen Love – ‘This Is My World’

After spending thirty years hidden behind a pair of shades, Welsh indie-pop legends Helen Love have released their most personal album to date. The band’s tenth LP, This Is My World is a reflective, intimate record that explores ageing, loss and front-person Helen Love’s childhood – a departure from their typically joyous odes to punkers and disco dollies.

Full disclosure: I’ve been obsessed with Helen Love for over half my life, so it feels pretty revelatory to hear such personal lyrics. ‘Seaside Town’ is a wistful take on life in a small town, while ‘Clearing Out Mum’s House’ deals with grief and the memories wrapped up in a place. 

This isn’t just Helen Love’s most open album, but it’s their most accessible too. The dizzying, “happy hardcore” beats they’re known for are turned down in favour of a punkier, more melodic and guitar-led sound. Songs like ‘Go-Kart’ are simple and stripped right down, so you can really focus on the vocal and lyrics. That said, the band prove they can still get the party started with the closing title track ‘This Is My World’ – a Pet Shop Boys-esque banger that really shines, combining an infectious ’80s-inspired groove with a poignant, introspective lyricism.

As Helen explains, “Getting older, life changes. Children grow up and leave home, loved ones pass away, friends move on. It’s easier to look back and harder to push forward…it’s not all bubblegum punk rock disco around my house anymore, but in truth, of course, it never was…

By inviting the listener into their world with this punk-driven, powerful record, Helen Love are at their most relevant and relatable here. A fitting album for the post-lockdown era, it’s reassuring to know that even Ms Love’s life isn’t all Casio keyboards and confetti canons.


This Is My World, the upcoming album from Helen Love, is set for release on 28th January via Alcopop! Records.

Vic Conway
@thepicsofvic

ALBUM: Courtney Barnett – ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’

Courtney Barnett’s latest album, Things Take Time, Take Time, seems like her most straightforward, but we should not take its sunny optimism for granted. In relation to previous work, it seems rigorously disciplined, sticking to a restrained sound and upholding a positive outlook throughout. It is not particularly innovative or surprising, but rather content to master its tone, creating a more consistent mood than earlier work. Expect this album to ease its way under your skin, even if it does not necessarily reach out and grab you on first listen. 

Things Take Time…  feels inextricable from the context in which it was written. Its title nods to Barnett’s lockdown writing process and the space the pandemic brought back to her life. This space had been constricted by years of heavy touring since the release of her 2015 debut, as felt throughout the claustrophobic, at times self-accusatory Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018). Things Take Time… is remarkably at ease, with its sunny guitars and gently rolling tunes, reflecting and appreciating the slower pace of life that the pandemic forced upon us. This makes for an album that does not particularly challenge the listener and on the surface does not challenge Barnett to create her most ambitious work, though the fact she is able to make something so straightforwardly pleasant in itself speaks volumes for her journey over the last few years. Discussing the creation of the album, Barnett commented to DIY, that “sometimes you have to go all the way down the wrong path to go back and find the short, easy answer”, an attitude that seems to define this new release in relation to her previous works that were more complex but also emotionally fraught. 

Barnett said of Tell Me How You Really Feel that many of the songs were conceived as ‘letters to friends’ but always seemed to turn out addressed to herself, which apparently gave her more licence to be critical. On Things Take Time…, however, it feels like the songs look more genuinely beyond their creator into the lives of loved ones, and in doing so finds a sympathetic tone. ‘Sunfair Sundown’ and ‘Turning Green’ both congratulate friends on newfound contentment (“I’ve never seen you so happy”, she croons on the latter). ‘Take it Day by Day’ encourages its subject to keep on keeping on (to borrow a phrase from an earlier Barnett song) with the chugging syncopation of a fitness DVD and some great lines, the best being, “Don’t stick that knife in the toaster, Baby life is like a rollercoaster”. ‘If I Don’t Hear from You Tonight’, an anthem for locked-down dating as mediated by distance and DMs, is an exercise in putting herself in the shoes of a crush who hasn’t replied perhaps just because they’ve gone to bed or something, not because they’re not interested. 

Though never particularly ostentatious with sound, on Things Take Time… Barnett is most decisive in stripping things back to their simplest form. Breaking with her usual lineup of bassist Bones Sloane, drummer Dave Mudie and a rotating cast of contributors on various other instruments, Barnett elected to record these tracks almost entirely between herself and drummer/producer Stella Mozgawa (of Warpaint, but also spotted popping up increasingly on a range of canny indie releases). This results in a set of wonderfully simple arrangements which as a whole anchor the lucid positivity of the album’s themes. Compare the easy, gentle opener ‘Rae Street’ with the previous album’s ‘Need a Little Time’, which has moments of similar niceness that are then undercut by the suddenly heavy “and you, ooh ooh ooh” section of the chorus. This streamlining of arrangement recalls the shift made by Cate le Bon on her album Mug Museum, for which she consciously restrained songs to their most essential layers so that each part felt necessary and nothing was crowded out (something she has since taken further on more experimental albums also featuring… you guessed it: Stella Mozgawa). The influence of Cate le Bon and Mug Museum in particular also translates itself into the guitar lines of tracks like ‘Sunfair Sundown’ and ‘If I Don’t Hear from You Tonight’ (indeed, the latter actually features le Bon on bass!).

 Things Take Time… seems to finally match the enduring image of Courtney Barnett, as expressed in endless Australian sunflower desert Marcelle Bradbeer photoshoots, unburdened by the psychological struggles that have previously taken over her writing and able to find a great deal of space in its rolling guitar lines. It is perhaps her most Australian-sounding album, with her more grungey 90s references sidelined in favour of that expansive ‘striped sunlight sound’ mastered recently by acts like Twerps, Jade Imagine and Dick Diver (whom Barnett has been quoted as calling “the best living band in Australia”). We get the sense that Barnett enjoyed returning to her musical roots, not only in terms of these influences but also in the manner in which they were channelled. She is keen to leave evidence of the solo, domestic lockdown creation process, often leaving guitar lines exposed and clean and building tracks around simple loops on an old drum. The best example of this is ‘Turning Green’, a highlight of the album that starts out sounding like a demo with the vocals mixed unusually quietly and a buzzy bedroom guitar playing along, before it spirals into a bizarre and fantastic instrumental close, a rare and welcome surprise on a rather strait-laced track-list.

This collection of songs is rather unassuming, as Barnett favours slow burners and small-scale, day-to day mindfulness. This is not necessarily a bad thing, though. Barnett has constructed an album that maintains a more measured and balanced tone than previous efforts. A radically pleasant album that speaks of the best of the slowed down pandemic world. 

Things Take Time, Take Time, the latest album from Courtney Barnett, is out now via Milk! Records.

Lloyd Bolton
@franklloydwleft

ALBUM: YAY MARIA – ‘OYEZ’

YAY MARIA is the supremely talented Maria Machin – a trans and queer musician from Derby, who you probably know as the front-woman of Grawl!x. With this solo electronic pop project, Machin has created an outlet to explore her gender transition. And after listening, you’ll be grateful that she chose to invite us on the journey.

Her long-awaited debut solo album is nothing short of magical. Ambitious and accomplished, OYEZ is a DIY pop record that transcends its humble origins. Its beats, bleeps and harmonies will fill your heart and send pure joy racing around your body. It feels like a celebration of otherness; breaking boundaries with lush orchestration, samples and driving beats without losing sight of its pop sensibility.

The album feels truly immersive. The giddy dancefloor stomper ‘TRU CRUSH’ is a standout, as are ‘PLASTIK PINK’ and ‘SHOPPING CENTRE’ – both sassy, grown-up slices of electro-pop that would be killer singles. Meanwhile, Belper’s Town Crier pops up halfway through the record too, just to let us know that YAY MARIA hopes we’re enjoying ourselves in a cute little nod to Machin’s Midlands’ roots!

Yet, despite these highlights, it’s the anthemic (and brilliantly named) ‘EPIPHANY (IN A CHARITY SHOP)’ that’ll stay with me. In it, Machin reflects on YAY MARIA’s purpose. “This isn’t about me,” she says. “It’s about so much more than me.” And she’s right. At a time where the trans community faces so much hostility, I really hope this album finds its way to the ears, hearts and minds who need it.

A joyful, powerful and important album, OYEZ offers love, solidarity and the inspiring message that being queer is beautiful. Yay to that, Maria!

OYEZ is out now. Buy the digital album on bandcamp now.

Vic Conway
@thepicsofvic