Boy Harsher – The Runner (OST)
Sometime in the mid-2010’s, Boy Harsher was the coolest thing. Simultaneously straddling the growing trend of mid-fi darkwave and the post-punk synthpop of Crystal Castles and The Knife, Boy Harsher’s formula couldn’t have been more perfect for the time. 2014’s Lesser Man EP was a louche, gothic aural feast that played on the pleasure points of their stylistic influences, and in the years since they’ve followed this up with consistently decadent bodies of work that have inched ever so slightly toward synthwave. 2019’s Country Girl was full of modular pulses, lo-fi drum fills and distorted, lilting vocals, yet they’ve maintained a sort of gothic noirishness to their approach that’s brought them closer to Depeche Mode than Kavinsky. The Runner, their latest record, comes in the form of an Original Sound Track (OST). The film attached to the project is a short, campy slasher flick of their own design. In this sense, the OST label seems a touch extraneous, considering that this suggests a dissonance between the music and visual material when in reality, they both form a singular concept piece. Really more a long-form music video or visual album than motion picture, The Runner (film) follows a protagonist as she flees the scene of a motel massacre, finding herself in a number of bizarre scenarios as she attempts to escape the monster that is following her. The micro-horror of The Runner demands that Boy Harsher lean more into their noir instincts than ever before. Yet, sort of disappointingly, it feels like they fall short of these ambitions.
The Runner (OST) is an atmospheric and at times chilling body of work. Tower immediately establishes the horror aesthetic, with ominous synth chords pulled straight from an early 80’s ghost movie. Similarly, Untitled (Piano) is a passage of ambient noise that plays on the side of the unnerving and hair raising while The Ride Home is an exercise in tension. Here, trip-hop bass booms and slithering synths create an atmosphere fraught with anxiety that only intensifies through eerily sliding strings. These cases are the most ‘OST’ The Runner gets, and balancing them out is a handful of Boy Harsher’s most 80’s pop tracks to date. Give Me A Reason slinks with the retro-synth energy of something out of Stranger Things, while Autonomy is a bright and nostalgic slice of synthpop. Machina featuring BOAN is part italo disco, part New Order with a spoken word verse in Spanish. Yet for all the theatrics, The Runner is surprisingly lacking in cinematic scope. As a body of work designed to underscore visual material, it lacks the bite that usually underscores Boy Harsher at their harshest. There’s a particular attitude that feels missing from The Runner (OST) that is present in their other work, an attitude that made this work so sumptuous. The Runner (OST) feels thinner, more diluted, and perhaps plays too heavily into tropes. It can’t fully support the weight of the project’s conceptual framework. The music is more successful in tandem with the film, but it’s difficult to shake the feeling that Boy Harsher is capable of more compelling material. The Runner runs out before the soundtrack can get anywhere interesting or new for Boy Harsher, and the feeling that this work is above all a passion project is quite palpable. Still, the synths are sharp and the palette neon soaked, and The Runner opens the opportunity for Boy Harsher to attempt this sort of project again to greater success. We may be witnessing a marathon rather than a sprint to victory.
See the music video for Machina (ft. BOAN) from The Runner (OST) below.
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