Limit of Love Boy & Bear UMA
★★★★ 1/2 With their 2013 album Harlequin Dream Sydney’s Boy & Bear settled into their skin, cruising effortlessly through a collection of tunes — notably the single Southern Sun, the ballad A Moment’s Grace and the country-ish End of the Line — with an assuredness and structure that hadn’t quite solidified on their debut Moonfire two years earlier.
Part of the band’s uncertainty then came from having recorded that first album in the US with gun producer Joe Chiccarelli, a marriage not made in heaven. Now comes Limit of Love, an album smoking with clarity, confidence and the easy charm of a unit that knows exactly what it’s about. Recorded in Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios near Bath in England, Limit of Love oozes hooks, harmonies and a hypnotic melodic strain.
From the opening percussive bleeps of the seductively poppy opening title track to the closing embers of the seductive, Tim Buckleyesque final song, Fox Hole, Limit of Love is a celebration of a band hitting its peak.
Some credit for this must be given to producer Ethan Johns, who has coloured and finessed the output of Ryan Adams and Kings of Leon, among others. Boy & Bear took a more live-recording approach to Limit of Love than on previous albums, which gives it a relaxed, joyful feel, perhaps because the band spent so much time on the road before recording it. Johns adds his own synth touches here and there, giving a 1980s nuance to a few of the tracks, such as the single Walk the Wire, a three-minute pop song driven by a delicious electric guitar motif (and solo) and exquisite harmonies.
Hollow Ground, a bouncy singalong with piano and acoustic guitar jostling for position is equally potent. Central to everything here, of course, is the voice of frontman Dave Hosking. His is an instrument with the ability to haunt and linger even when the delivery is so smooth it’s like he’s not even trying. That’s true of the rumbling Where’d You Go, where again harmony sells the song in the chorus.
Hosking, who started Boy & Bear as a solo project six years ago, has been the chief songwriter in the band since then, but Limit of Love is a departure in that sense, with several of the songs the product of collaboration between all five members — Hosking, Killian Gavin, Tim Hart, Jon Hart and Dave Symes — primarily due to the heavy touring schedule that didn’t allow the singer time to write. There are rich rewards in these collaborations, particularly the moody Showdown, which drifts from a seductive, percussive stroll into an epic, all-in ballad, and A Thousand Faces, where again synths (and a nicely cheesy Farfisa-esque organ) underpin the dynamics of harmonies, guitar and solid rhythm section. Hosking takes the mood down on the more acoustic Just Dumb and the aforementioned Fox Hole, both of which are nevertheless riddled with melodic touches and subtle dynamics. Best of all is Breakdown Slow, a beautifully understated stroll with Hosking delivering from deep.