Mention Boy & Bear to any Australian and I guarantee you’ll be instantly regaled with tales of how “they’re Australia’s version of Mumford and Sons”. In their defense though Boy & Bear are huge in Australia, an institution some may say. Not bad for a group of five guys who up to this point had released a solitary album. However, the Mumford’s comparison is unfair. Sure the delicious harmonies are there but there’s a little more than pop-folk, banjos and waistcoats here.
‘Harlequin Dream’ is the follow up to the Boy & Bear’s 2011 debut release ‘Moonfire’. It’s a genre-crossing affair containing a real mixture of folk, indie, rock and some 1970’s easy listening thrown in for good measure. The album has just received its European release (13th January 2014) but was actually distributed in August 2013, via Island Records, back in Australia. Back in their homeland the band have notched up a series of creditable awards in recognition of previous releases but have yet to make a real impression over here. That, ladies and gentlemen, is about to change.
At a first listen ‘Harlequin Dream’ doesn’t seem to offer anything too original. At a second, or even a third listen the prognosis stays the same. It’s then that you realize that the band aren’t trying to stop speeding cars on a motorway or topple governments. Their plan is obvious. The band simply wants to write and perform beautiful, memorable music and on ‘Harlequin Dream’ they’ve done this by the bucket-load. Let’s take the title track. It’s lyrically outstanding and the change of pace offered throughout will cause the most sullen of person to tap their foot and raise a smile in recognition of this fact. None of the production or instrumentation is original but who cares? It’s an exquisite song that even contains a very 80’s sounding sax solo towards the end … yes, you read that correctly.
And then you have ‘Southern Sun’. That catchy little guitar riff that re-visits throughout and a stunning vocal performance from Dave Hosking makes this one of the stand-out tracks of the LP. It grows and grows until you simply can’t get the melody out of your head. It has real warmth that starts to become infectious as you struggle to locate the repeat button again and again. Don’t struggle. Let this beautiful track absorb you. You’ll thank me, I promise.
‘Three Headed Woman’ offers a break from the lesser tempo’d tracks. It has more of a raw feel to it and wonderful guitar solos that showcase the bands rock credentials. It continues with ‘Bridges’. Yes, the tempo has gone but the attitude is still there as Hosking announces “I’m in a rock and roll band, and that makes me more of a man”. Lyrically it’s almost a little sultry in places but for me is easily the best track on ‘Harlequin Dream’.
‘End of the Line’ is a momentary lull in proceedings. The content simply isn’t as strong as the other 10 songs and ironically it’s also the track that sounds the most like something from a Mumford’s LP. However, this is the only blip on the album and that should be seen in a positive light. Thankfully ‘Back Down the Black’ re-addresses things on the very next track. A slow, moody and beautiful production that combines the band and vocal performances to within touching distance of perfection.
Funnily enough there appears to be a real split between fans and reviewers (some of whom are one and the same) as to whether ‘Harlequin Dream’ is better than its predecessor ‘Moonfire’. I’d like to sum it up like this…
‘Harlequin Dream’ is certainly progress for the band. The production is stronger and the song writing is more consistent over the whole album (with the one exception) but more importantly they’ve stayed faithful to the roots of ‘Moonfire’. Sure, and as I mentioned earlier, there is no real uniqueness to the format but if you’re a song writer, a lover of well written music or simply intrigued to hear an 80’s style sax within the confines of an indie-soft rock tune then you have to tip your hat towards this release.
One last thing. It’s only January but i’ll guarantee you won’t see album artwork this good for the rest of the year!
The full track-listing for ‘Harlequin Dream’ is as follows…
- Southern Sun
- Old Town Blues
- Harlequin Dream
- Three Headed Woman
- A Moment’s Grace
- End of the Line
- Back Down the Black
- Real Estate
- Arrow Flight
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Download: Three Headed Woman, Harlequin Dream, Southern Sun