Slick, late-night synth pop.
This theme works on a number of levels that require a brief summary of the duo's backstory. After Miller moved into Matthews' attic, the couple became romantically, then musically, involved. Jae fell for Gus after seeing him dancing to New Order's "Bizarre Love Triangle." Then, dissolution. They broke up and played what they thought was a final show while not on speaking terms. Lit candles were thrown, a PA was fried and Matthews was given a lower-back tattoo that read "Careful," as in "Careful who you give your heart to."
To Matthews, love is still a double-edged sword, taken up with the constant risk of abandonment. "You will hurt me either way," Matthews sings on "LA," "It's a matter of your time." This theme of abandonment is also explored through Matthews' observations of her mother slipping into dementia following the death of her stepfather. On "The Look You Gave (Jerry)," Matthews sings, "I close my eyes and I can almost see: The look you gave when you ran away from me," which comments directly on the half-remembered parting her mother feels, but more broadly on the crumbling memory of past love.
These gloomy, universal themes unfurl through a mix of compact synth pop tunes and filmic interludes. The album opens with the sound of passing cars and claustrophobic ambience on "Keep Driving." That's exactly what Matthews and Miller have been doing for years, touring North America and Europe twice in 2018, graduating from dingy underground venues to mid-sized clubs. Boy Harsher need to craft songs that hit hard enough to please the punks that still show up at their gigs, but Careful also bears some of the slicker production touches that showed up on their breakthrough Country Girl EP. It's Matthews' Annie Lennox-esque tenor, though, that carries the day. When she sings lines like "Baby, I might be late, it might be strange to come back to your arms," we hear the words, but also the comet trail of Matthews' halted, breathy delivery, a physical manifestation of the lyrics' chaotic subtext.
But for all their underground credentials, Boy Harsher is a pop band. They've pulled away from close peers like Xeno & Oaklander and Essaie Pas at least in part because they've written songs catchy enough to lodge in your memory, like "A Realness," off their debut album, Yr Body Is Nothing. There is the acid-era Psychic TV-channeling Boy Harsher heard on tracks like "Come Closer," and then there is the group's romantic side, which is finally revealed on the album's penultimate track, "Lost."
The tune has the same Roland arpeggiation that serves as the album's backbone, but hope creeps in via Careful's only major key motif. Matthews, too, lets her guard down, if only for a moment. "Now we take the famous drive / Open windows and I'm alive / I'm somebody’s fool!" At their best, Boy Harsher capture the bittersweet feeling of being young, in love and on the road, oblivious to the inevitable spin-out.