If January is a notoriously terrible month for album releases, Aussie quintet Boy & Bear have done well to buck the trend. Harlequin Dream is a very good, very ‘of the times’ album; sure, the band are riding the seemingly unstoppable pop-neo-folk wave, but they are doing so with style, talent and finesse.
Often dubbed as the ‘Australian Mumford and Sons’, Boy & Bear’s sound is a perfectly balanced combination of pop and folk/rock/California soul with a twist of country vibe, and really, it’s nice. The opening track of the record, Southern Sun sets a high standard and appropriate tone for the rest of the album that follows. This dreamy track inspires visions of driving over green hills beneath sunny blue skies; front man Dave Hosking sings of how “As a child I was wonder-eyed / at the thought that I might know / a life in the ecstasy of rock ‘n’ roll.” This contrast of wondrous, happy hippy vibes, with darker themes of hellish hangovers, drug consumption and depressive times on tour, is a consistent theme throughout the album.
Three Headed Woman, is one of the catchiest tracks on the album. Throughout the song, Hoskins reveals how he has been dreaming about a mutant version of his lover, and how he has fantasised she was ‘sleeping with [his] best friend’, making him hate her so much. Hoskins’ quirky lyrics only confirm to his listeners that his music is whimsical and inoffensive; the songs should not be over analysed, but enjoyed for what they are, fun-folky goodness.
The title track of the album Harlequin Dream is arguably the only over produced track, on what is an otherwise delightful album. Aspects of the song that were presumably originally intended to be wistful and kooky are not nearly subtle enough. Electric, eighties sounding keyboards sound more overbearing than charming, and the inclusion of a Kenny G influenced sounding saxophone solo feels contrived.
Boy & Bear have achieved overwhelming success in Australia, and as a result have produced a confident and incredibly well polished second album. Country bumpkin style track End Of The Line is a favourite on the record, though it indisputably includes many of the same elements that might be found on a Marcus Mumford piece, this is not a reason to disregard the track. It is true that the modern music industry is saturated with mandolins and banjos, but not every wax jacket wearing fella is making music to anywhere near the same standard.
Harlequin Dream is a great album, filled with natural imagery and descriptions of the country, just like every good neo-folk album should. There is no denying that Boy & Bear have been influenced by their nouveau folk contemporaries, of course, elements of Fleet Foxes, and the Mumford mafia are rife, but instead of creating shabby knock off versions of their musical inspirations, the band have created an album that is equally as good.
Boy & Bear’s Harlequin Dream is the kind of record that you would hope to play on an imaginary summertime roadtrip to the sea; it’s lovely, and you should listen to it.