Boy & Bear


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Championed by Mumford & Sons on their 2010 Australian tour, support act Boy & Bear didn't exactly strike while the nu-folk iron was hot, waiting a full year to follow-up their debut EP, With Emperor Antarctica, with their first full-length album, Moonfire, recorded in Nashville with producer Joe Chiccarelli (My Morning Jacket, the Shins). Judging by its number two position in their homeland, the timing proved to be a smart move that has allowed the Sydney outfit to step out of the shadows of its British contemporaries. Lead vocalist Dave Hosking's earnest bluesy tones are undeniably in the same ballpark as Marcus Mumford, while the stripped-back mandolin-led "House & Farm" and the anthemic indie folk of "Big Man" and "Lordy May" could fit quite comfortably on Sigh No More. But the solo project turned five-piece band's ambitions extend far beyond those of the tweed waistcoat-wearing brigade. "Milk & Sticks" is a schizophrenic three minutes of experimental indie rock, which starts out as an Arcade Fire-esque new wave stomper before turning into an organ-led slice of baroque pop and then back again; "Part Time Believer," whose lush West Coast harmonies bear an uncanny resemblance to America's "A Horse with No Name," is an affectionate homage to Hosking's parents' record collection; and the reggae guitar hooks, lilting melodies, and Afro-beat percussion of "The Village" could give Vampire Weekend a run for their money in the Paul Simon pastiche stakes. The misplaced '60s-style psychedelic freak-outs on the barroom hoedown of "Golden Jubilee" suggest their experimental tendencies occasionally need reining in, while the gorgeously atmospheric but all too brief banjo-plucking interlude "Percy Warner Park" would surely have been more worth exploring further than the slightly pedestrian country-pop of "My Only One." But in an increasingly crowded contemporary folk scene, Boy & Bear should be applauded for producing an album that at least attempts to bring something new to the table. On the evidence of Moonfire, they might not need such star-studded plaudits in the near future.