The Runner: Original Soundtrack  Album Review

Written by Richie Corelli

Released by Nude Club

the runner boy harsher poster large

Composed by Boy Harsher
Released on January 21st, 2022


The Runner is a short horror movie by the band Boy Harsher. About 13 minutes into the film, music producer Augustus Muller appears onscreen, playing a note on his keyboard. He releases the key and says, “I love this synth. It’s kinda what got me into music… Uhm… Before I knew what I was doin’, you could just, like, hold down one key, sweep the cutoff a little bit, and it was just, like, a whole track. And… Yeah. I was hooked.” His name flashes at the bottom of the screen with the word musician underneath. Musician is in quotes.

I’m in a packed theater and we all snicker at Muller’s self-deprecating joke. We’re engaged throughout the movie, laughing when we’re supposed to laugh, wincing when we’re supposed to wince, and shuddering when we’re supposed to shudder. After the first onscreen kill, the man seated behind me gasps, “Oh, wow!”

The rest of us are thinking the same thing. Wow.

Augustus Muller and bandmate Jea Matthews have been recording music since 2014 under the moniker Boy Harsher. They were part of a new school of darkwave that rose up during the early-mid 2010s. Artists and like Xeno and Oaklander, Essaie Pass, Marie Davidson, TR/ST, Zola Jesus, and Drab Majesty hit stages and studios with cold synths and black hearts. Like the rest of their ilk, Boy Harsher culled sounds from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, taking cues from Sleep Chamber, Fad Gadget, Coil, and pretty much everything released by Wax Trax! Records. But to pigeonhole Boy Harsher by their influences or with genre restrictions does the band a disservice. They’ve carved their own lane and have developed their own sound.

Muller and Matthews met in film school. The Runner brings them back to that early discipline. The short film has an experimental edge with a dual narrative. It follows Kristina Esfandiari as an unnamed woman, the titular Runner, as she goes on a bloody killing spree. Intercut with that is a group of musicians and recording engineers in a garage studio. The musicians are Boy Harsher, played by themselves. The two narratives have completely different tones. Esfandiari’s scenes feel like an ‘80s slasher, vivid and violent. The Boy Harsher scenes, meanwhile, are shot like a documentary. The camera follows the band as they work on their new album, a soundtrack for the movie called The Runner. It's meta, but not in a cheesy way.

Those who aren’t familiar with Boy Harsher might be put off. From a certain perspective, the film plays more like a music video than a horror movie. But what a video it is. The soundtrack is what keeps these contrasting styles uniform. Throughout the movie, Boy Harsher’s music is mixed to the front, with every synth-hit and vocal groan penetrating the listener’s ears. The sound is slick, icy. It works wonders in the theater. The vinyl release by the band’s own label imprint, Nude Club, proves that it works just as well on a turntable.

The album is solid from start to finish, but there are a few tracks that need calling out. “Give Me a Reason” is classic Boy Harsher. Over a fuzzy, synthetic beat, sharp keys dance about while deep low synths bubble and bob. Jea Matthews’ voice slides in. She moans when she sings, sullen and despondent.

The next song, “Autonomy,” enlists guest vocalist Cooper B. Handy (AKA Lucy). The synths are a little lighter here, a little more spacious, a little poppier, but they still hit and jump with cold energy. Handy’s hollowed-out, melodic voice should appeal to fans of New Order’s Bernard Sumner. Both vocalists have a similar kind of wavering inflection to their delivery. It complements the instrumentation perfectly.

“Machina” is also frigid, but it’s the closest thing The Runner has to an ass-shaker. Featuring guest vocals from Mariana Saldaña (from the band BOAN), “Machina” launches on a sequence-bed and thumping drum pattern. A synth bass, mechanical but funky, comes in to reinforce the beat. Saldaña joins the fray with robotic precision. With a monotone delivery, she doles lyrics like, “Machina electrónico / Artificial sensación frío / Machina electrónico / Doméstico corazón frío.” The words couldn’t feel more apt. The chorus offers a melody but no lyrical respite. “(I can’t) Spend the night with you / (I can’t) Stay to dance with you.” Yet, despite the temperature, this is the most infectious song on the album; a late-night, electroclash, ‘80s dance-floor, neon light, cyber-sex anthem.

The closer, “I Understand,” is moody and patient. A beatless track, keys hit and rest, hit and rest. Matthews speak-sings in a distant, muted whisper. There isn’t much to to this song, but there doesn’t need to be. The track permeates sadness. The mood is strong enough that it stays with the listener long after the needle rides the label.

The vinyl is divided into eight tracks and clocks in at about thirty minutes. There are a number of different pressings available. For this review, I’m analyzing the yellow black fog press. It’s an attractive record that sounds as good as it looks. The beats have the right amount of snap and the synths—oh those wonderful synths—attack with a crisp, clear tone.

This is not a deluxe release. There is no gatefold, no special liner notes, no featured artwork. The cover art is a still from the movie; in the dark of night, the unnamed killer stands in front of a yellow-lit trailer. The image is out-of-focus by design, giving it a fuzzy, dreamlike tone.

If there’s a complaint about this project, it’s that there isn’t enough Jea Matthews. The guest vocalists, as mentioned above, are wonderful. And their songs are perfect in the context of the film. But they dilute the band’s signature. Matthews’ androgynous vocals are a key part to Boy Harsher’s sound. When she skips out, the record begins to lose its identity.

For those who have never heard Boy Harsher, The Runner is not the best starting point. The guest vocals and film tie-in make it an atypical release for the band. The duo’s 2019 album, Careful, would make a better introduction. That record is pure, dark synth excellence. But for people who are already fans of Jea Matthews and Augustus Muller, The Runner marks another success in their still-young discography and it teases excitement of what the band will bring next.


Music: Cover
Physical Quality:
Overall: 3.5 Star Rating

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Richie Corelli
Staff Reviewer
Richie isn’t ignoring you. He just can’t hear you over the music. He’s been plugged in to his headphones for decades, diving into the zine culture of the 90s, blogging relentlessly through the 00s and beyond. He knows more about certain bands than he knows about himself. His love of music is rivaled only by his love of horror. If it’s creepy and spooky, he’s into it. Horror DNA sutures his two passions together, giving him a platform to analyze and express his feelings on horror scores, soundtracks and live performances. It’s a celebration of all that goes bump in the night.
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