Boy Harsher Careful

[Nude Club; 2019]

Styles: minimal wave, synthpop, darkwave
Others: HTRK, Chromatics

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

We may still watch television, but who watches a television? Who today knows static, and where could consumption be so static?

The analogue synthesizer, in its 1980s heyday, was a gleaming symbol of a too-perfect future, an inhuman cybernetics that might be taken to an impersonal extreme (Kraftwerk, early Human League) or contrasted beautifully with an all-too-human emotionality (Pet Shop Boys, late Human League).

Today, though, the bleeps and boops of analogue synthesis seem human, all too human (and are fetishized as such) in contrast to the new new flesh of the digital. The rise of genres such as synthwave and retrowave, driven mostly by those too young to have lived through the aesthetics they’re pastiching, has been facilitated by the internet, which has produced its own ouroborian nostalgia for a time before itself. Meanwhile, the retrosynthetic sound has made its way into the works of pop stars from Taylor Swift to Carly Rae Jepsen.

Minimal wave, another microgenre resurgent (and only named as such) in the internet era, has launched a thousand chips, but few whose vitality or grip of harmony (a crucial and much-overlooked element) can match that of the originals.

But Boy Harsher continue to buck this trend. Where modern minimal wave is often both musically repetitive and historically purist, they bring a subtle but unexpected sound palette that shades from the 80s into the 90s. Panpipes wind around their hooks, punctuated by orchestral hits, the whole combined with the dark, cool sweetness of early Eurythmics.

The handful of atmospheric pieces on Careful don’t necessarily contribute but do nod to the filmic quality of Boy Harsher’s work. But where the adjective “cinematic” is usually an upsell these days of “boring,” Boy Harsher have a gift at conjuring visceral emotions with subtlety (another quality in little evidence in much darkwave music). A recent move to L.A. is an overt influence — but it’s L.A. as a symbol of the dark and dissociated side of the dream, from Kenneth Anger to David Lynch’s L.A. Trilogy.

As a matter of fact, they’re there right now. And it’s not their custom to go where they’re not wanted.

Most Read