For: millennials who missed out on 80s underground goth rock.
Feels like: a fever dream, the soundtrack to a seedy nightclub.
This is the sharp synth-driven electronic cold wave/dark wave/industrial-goth-synth-wave project we’ve been waiting for. The exact genre doesn’t matter. Boy Harsher has taken the best of all the waves any dark electronic music fan might want to ride — and they have consistently produced unmissable music, including their latest EP Country Girl. Boy Harsher weaves experimental instrumentation and energetic beats reminiscent of 80s goth rock into their own brand of minimalist electronic music that is both intimate and industrial — and entirely danceable. The duo consists of Jae Matthews and Gus Muller, and though they are now based in Northampton, Massachusetts, Yr Body is Nothing and their previous EP Lesser Man were recorded at Dollhouse Studios in Savannah, Georgia. Boy Harsher always knows the cool place to be — their new EP Country Girl was released digitally last Friday by Ascetic House, the cryptic artists circle based in Tempe, Arizona, which has produced everything from philosophical pamphlets to art zines to cassette tapes sent directly to incarcerated persons, for free. It’s fitting that Boy Harsher chose to work with Ascetic House, a distributor as mystifying and outré as their new EP.
Boy Harsher lacks the flamboyance of concurrent goth-revival projects (Drab Majesty and Hante. are some of my favorites), however an indulgent, dramatic sound still emerges from their minimal synth and monotone vocals. “Motion,” the dizzying opening track on Country Girl immerses you in delirium before you even realize it. Gus Muller layers synth-heavy melodies sharp enough to stab you in the heart over straightforward bass lines and percussion. Jae Matthews’ brooding vocals loom over the synth backbone throughout the EP. Country Girl features none of the shrieks or vocal oscillations heard on the energetic album Yr Body is Nothing, rather here subdued whispers and moans amount to a reflective, somewhat despondent narrative. This seedy, sleepy narrative comes to a head on the titular track “Country Girl,” which is accompanied by a music video directed by Jae Matthews (both Matthews and Muller were film students in Savannah). In the video a girl slinks around and dances in a placeless motel room washed in red and blue lighting. Matthews becomes the voyeuristic narrator of this scene, crooning, “Hey there country girl…don’t be shy,” over sharp and slippery synth.
Sounds take on amorphous forms on the disorienting track “Underwater,” with hollow, industrial percussion. The tempo picks up on the final track “Westerners,” the cinematic climax that makes the 4 track EP feel complete. “Westerners” captures Boy Harsher’s ability to glide seamlessly between danceable beats and despondent interludes. This alternation along with the vocal loops and refrains that creep in throughout the EP amount to an atmosphere that incites dancing but begets a sense of caution and paranoia. For an entirely eerie listening experience equipped with indulgent electronic drums that would surely make Gary Numan proud, you might be surprised to look to a contemporary artist. Boy Harsher, however, is a powerful experimental electronic project as solidly rooted as they are forward-looking.