Producing a follow up to Moonfire was always going to be difficult for Boy and Bear. Their debut had singles filled with hooks and album tracks that ranged in style from banjo-folk to foot-stomping country rock. While Harlequin Dream does not hit the same heights as Moonfire, it does come close.
The opening track and lead single, “Southern Sun,” has the catchiest chorus on the album and memorable guitar parts throughout. Track two, “Old Town Blues,” is far weaker. The initial riff is overly repetitive and the song lacks anything substantial enough to get stuck in your head. Thankfully a higher standard of songwriting is maintained through the rest of the album.
It would be a travesty if the title track does not get released as a single. It is filled with dreamy falsetto vocals, multiple rhythmic changes and accents, and even has a saxophone solo to top it off. Its sound is typical of what becomes evident halfway through the album: the folk element of Boy and Bear’s sound has been dropped, in favor of a more pop-rock orientated sound (think Sleepy Jackson). Indeed, “A Moment’s Grace” is the only song on the album that does not conform to this new sonic direction. The song’s slower tempo, introspective lyrics, electronic soundscapes, and fingerpicked acoustic guitar make it an incredibly emotionally effective song.
The folk sensibilities that unavoidably drew comparisons to Mumford and Sons are evident on “End of the Line”. The song’s dramatic syncopation, good-time banjo, and vocal harmonies, are all too rare on this album (probably a conscious decision by the band). If you enjoyed “Golden Jubilee” then you will like this one. “Bridges” is worth listening to purely for its lyrical angle, as Dave Hosking assumes the role of a desperate sexually depraved rock and roll singer. Meanwhile the album’s second single, “Three Headed Woman,” and “Strangers,” are also worth positive mentions. Both songs contain codas with climactic guitar solos that will definitely excite crowds on their upcoming “Southern Sun Tour”.
The wall-of-sound production throughout Harlequin Dream makes it less dynamic than Moonfire. The sparseness that listeners first heard on Boy and Bear’s cover of “Fall at Your Feet” is here no longer. This could be considered a commercially safe move, or just an attempt to grow. Either way, however, the quality of songwriting has not been affected.
Boy and Bear have not caught the dreaded second album syndrome. They haven’t even fallen into the trap of trying to make their first album again. Although Harlequin Dream does not cover the same amount of musical ground that Moonfire did, it is a confident step forward for a band that promises to be a mainstay on of the Australian music scene. Get ready for a great Canberra gig on October 24th, guys.