Harlequin Dream, the latest LP from folk-rockers Boy & Bear, sees the Aussie outfit embark upon a malleable 1970s rock journey. Perhaps it’s their love of flat caps, but in Oceania, the group are constantly quoted as being an indigenous version of Mumford & Sons. Depending on who you speak to, being compared to such a distinguished group must be particularly pleasing or rather patronizing. However, if you consider Boy & Bear to be just another stifling, unnecessary indie-folk group, then their second album might just make you re-consider. Boasting both stellar song writing and lyrical dexterity, Harlequim Dream is a nostalgic ode to Californian rock of yesteryear.
‘Southern Sun’, the opening single, seems more of a homage to Peter Green, the Fleetwood Mac founder, rather than anything inspired by Mumford & Sons. Far from sounding cheesy or tacky, there is a real intensity; it’s palpable, impulsive and thoroughly invigorating. The unpretentious chorus is complimented by galloping, hallucinogenic harmonies.
And speaking of inspired visualizations; Wayne Connolly, the legendary Australian producer/engineer and musician, plays a huge part in the musical flow of Harlequin Dream. Having worked with the likes of The Vines and Youth Group, Connolly took Boy & Bear to Sydney in an attempt to tap into the musical genius of a city responsible for inventive prodigies such as AC/DC and Delta Goodrem (yes, the latter reference is an attempt at humour).
Harlequin Dream sees the group take a step away from the folk sound of debut album Moonfire, instead opting to make an incredibly classic sounding LP. Compared to their debut, the lyricism and entire focus is more aggressive and humorous. Here, frequent tongue-in-cheek references to the life of a nomadic rock band are encountered. ‘Bridges’ is a prime example of this, alluding to drunken sexual desires, “I’m in need of your body and nothing more” before declaring rather comically, “I’m in a rock band, that makes me more of a man.”
A luscious, melodic submission, Harlequin Dream is capacious and decadent yet steeped in the proverbial ancestry of classic rock. Indistinct, somewhat ominous touches caress the sound of ‘Old Town Blues’, while the group supply raw power on the excellent ‘Three Headed Woman’, culminating with a brash guitar solo. However, once the appropriately named ‘A Moment’s Grace’ arrives, the album enters a state of conversion, an equanimity appears like the haze of a beautiful spring morning. Dropping down a gear, the approach becomes more buoyant, nowhere as near aggressive as the first half.
It is easy to see why Boy & Bear are revered within the Australian music community. Carrying the swagger of Edward Sharpe and a propensity that is very much their own, there is a real uniqueness to the music they create. And now, on this record, Boy & Bear have evolved, separated themselves from the herd, and have prospered where so many contemporaries have imploded.