To say that Australian quintet Boy & Bear have gone down a storm in Australia would be an understatement. After being discovered by Triple J Unearthed and winning their prestigious Artist of the Year in 2010, the quintet went from strength to strength. Their debut album, entitled Moonfire – which was released in Australia back in August – debuted at Number 2 in the Australian ARIA charts, reaching Gold status after just three weeks. The band’s success Down Under led to supporting slots for fellow nu-folk purveyors, Mumford & Sons and Laura Marling, with both acts singing the praises of Boy & Bear.
Unfortunately for the Australian five-piece, they have arrived rather late to the party. The nu-folk boom that has occurred over the last few years has led to an increasingly overcrowded market, one in which it’s becoming increasingly difficult to establish any sense of identity. While it’s somewhat unfair to compare Boy & Bear to similar acts, it’s virtually impossible to ignore the likeness between their sound and that of bands such as Fleet Foxes and, especially, their aforementioned touring buddies.
Album opener Lordy May has all the trademarks of a Mumford & Sons’ song – the slow build up, gentle twee acoustic guitar and gruff vocals – although without the rousing chorus that instantly grabs you. The vocals of lead singer Dave Hosking, who originally formed Boy & Bear as a solo project, certainly hint at Marcus Mumford’s raw power, while also possessing a strong resemblance to Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold. The country twang of Feeding Line gives it more of a presence than the opener, with the sprawling electric guitar and thumping beat giving the song some much needed backbone, as Hosking sings: “I got my whole damn life / caught up in moments entirely of yours.” It’s by no means groundbreaking, but it is effective.
Golden Jubilee takes up the position of the album’s hoe-down number, with a galloping beat and viciously strummed acoustic guitar giving the song a foot-stomping simplicity that brings us back to Mumford once more. While the bluegrass vocal harmonies and summery glow of Part Time Believer sees Boy & Bear acknowledge Fleet Foxes’ dulcet tones. The lyrics, though, leave a lot to be desired at times, as Hosking reminisces: “I was’a listening to the Rolling Stones / see I was waiting for my dad to come home from work / so I could show him all the chords that I’d learnt.” Although the image is one of warmth and home comfort, it’s also undeniably cringe-worthy.
Beach, the longest song on Moonfire at just over six minutes, does little to merit such a long running time, seemingly going nowhere until the electric guitar kicks in for the last minute. Even with the modest rock-out towards the end, the song is dragged out and just a little bit dull. It’s something that plagues most of the album; comforting and enjoyable it may be, but exciting? Not so much. The album closes with the rising and swirling melody of Big Man, another song that fails to leave any significant lasting impression.
While Mumford & Sons have their detractors, their debut album at least had rousing, infectious choruses that made a mark both on the record and when played live. Boy & Bear’s debut album falls short of that criteria. It’s certainly not going to condemn the Australian quintet to an early obituary – their huge home following will see to that – but it doesn’t suggest Boy & Bear are anything to get excited about, either. Moonfire is a perfectly nice album, one that would provide a suitable soundtrack to a warm, summer evening. However, if you’re looking for something to captivate and engage you, then look elsewhere.