It’s nice when, unlike some American televangelists, you get predictions sort of right. It was back at the beginning of last year when I first heard and fell almost instantly in love with the slow-building acoustic extravaganza that was Boy & Bear’s ‘Mexican Mavis’. Back then, Mumford and Sons were extolling the virtues of the Sydney five-piece’s confident take on the folk rock movement that Marcus and his band were helping propagate alongside West London folk stalwarts Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale etc. The triumvirate of evil (Guetta, Iglesias, Flo Rida) were still relative nobodies and judging by the popular response to the release of their five-track EP ‘With Emperor Antarctica’, audiences were pretty caught up in the Mumford/Marling/Mavis sound. They jumped on a tribute album to Australian music heroes Crowded House (regardless of kiwi heritage, we claim them as ours) and in recording a stirring rendition of ‘‘, cemented their place in folk history – at least for 2010 – by annihilating the airwaves in a manner out of step with the moderately successful 1991 original.
That was then. This is now. Facing the prospect of redundancy as the music industry shuffles towards a torpor, Boy & Bear have responded with a hearteningly traditional move. Rather than prostitute their ethos to the fickle popular imagination, frontman Dave Hosking and his mates have gone and penned yet another solid track in ‘Feeding Line’. But where ‘Mexican Mavis’ and other EP standout ‘‘ were largely concerned with telling the tales of others, ‘Feeding Line’ sees the boys take a new lyrical tack, exploring first-person narration to surprisingly successful effect. Storytelling is almost inevitably easier when you don’t have to engage in the sorts of strenuous introspection that personal narratives demand. Yet here, in tapping into that universal need of ours – to make something worthwhile of our lives – and even explicitly addressing his audience (3’55″) Hosking’s individual insight has a certain resonance to it.
As a single it doesn’t necessarily have the same instantly identifiable choral riff that made their earlier work alternative cool and mainstream embraced at once but it is in sacrificing perhaps the more populist elements of folk – the easy drum beat, the compulsive whistling, the banjo – that ‘Feeding Line’ really represents a step forward for the band. (All that said, the song is already charting here). Where their association with Mumford and Sons (filling the guest slot on their national tour here last year) might have led to B&B seeing their rising star unfairly hitched to that of their British tourmates, ‘Feeding Line’ sees them well and truly off the folk bandwagon, sounding like the sort of band that, having mastered the hype, might be staying around for some time. It’s a dynamic, hard-rocking song that, with hints of the darkness of Interpol and the sense of urgency of fellow Aussies Eskimo Joe, strikes me as an impressive statement of intent from the band. If the world doesn’t end October 21, I’m looking forward to watching where Boy & Bear take it from here.
Boy & Bear – Feeding Line