For their second album, Boy & Bear have tried to develop their sound, aiming for a record that is “more pop, less folk”. By the end of the record however, it is apparent that someone forgot to tell them that ‘pop’ music is catchy and memorable. ‘Harlequin Dream’ is sadly devoid of anything as memorable as previous hits ‘Feeding Line’ or ‘Part Time Believer’. Rather it chooses to wallow in mediocrity as so many other uninspiring folk groups do.
Boy & Bear: Harlequin Dream
Almost everyone these days has heard of Boy & Bear. Most have heard ‘Feeding Line’ from their debut album ‘Moonfire’. Many of you would own that album and would have seen them at one of their many shows or festival appearances around the country. It would have also been impossible to avoid hearing the criticisms levelled at them: They’re bland; Nothing more than a carbon copy of Mumford & Sons or Fleet Foxes. Their sophomore album ‘Harlequin Dream’ will leave you under no illusions about this accusation. They’re not. In fact based on this album, they’re not even close. Whilst their debut album was an irresistibly endearing collection of laid-back acoustic ditties, ‘Harlequin Dream’ has far grander aspirations and falls disappointingly short on almost all of them.
Album opener, ‘Southern Sun’ is a jangly acoustic pop song that is catchy up to a point: Unfortunately that point is the chorus, or lack of, as the group appear to have deemed it unnecessary. This lack of chorus is an issue that plagues much of this album and even when one is present it is sadly underwhelming, such as on the unnecessarily long, ‘Harlequin Dream’ or ‘Old Town Blues’, a track that never really gets out of first gear.
The most common comparison bandied about in relation to this album has been Fleetwood Mac and indeed, all the elements are there: The layered instrumentation; the wounded lyrics; the atmospheric quality of the songs. Yet far from adding up to more than the sum of its parts, ‘Harlequin Dream’ shows the Mathematical ability of a five year old, barely adding up to an even tolerable album. It could quite easily serve as pleasant background music but there is already a lot of that around and frankly, most of it is better. (Read our review of the debut album by ‘Buffalo Tales’ to see what we mean.)
The stand out tracks on the album, ‘A Moment’s Grace’ and ‘End Of The Line’, hint at the same glories suggested on the group’s debut album ‘MoonfIre’. These definitely show Hosking’s ability to craft some truly touching and heartfelt lyrics, a skill most obvious on ‘Three Headed Woman’, a raw exploration of a faltering relationship. This connection to the listener is what is missing from so much of the album. With every added layer of musicality, Boy & Bear seem to have stripped away part of what we first identified with. ‘A Moment’s Grace’ removes the bells and whistles and places the emphasis where it belongs (with great success). Caught up in the moment, Boy & Bear have created a musically proficient album but forgot to begin with what is most important: The songs. When the time and care has been put into the melodies and lyrics, they have created some tracks that deserve to be remembered. Unfortunately these are too few and far between.