Boy & Bear are a band I will always have a lot of time for, with their last two records being in my top three albums of the years that they were released (2011 and 2013). So when they announced their new effort Limit Of Love, I was naturally excited. But while Limit Of Love does not reach the same heights on initial listen, I feel it may be another one of their albums that becomes a lot stronger on repeat listening.
The title track Limit Of Love instantly feels different to anything previous the band has done. Mixing together some unique instrumental parts with a more standard rock riff background, the song feels like a strange mashup between the old style of Boy & Bear and the new idea they are trying to push on the record. There is still your standard Boy & Bear goodness in the track, the guitar solo seems straight from Harlequin Dream for example, but yet something seems off about it.
The next track corrects the ship somewhat, with the first single Walk The Wire expertly mixing the two themes. Adding some synth to give it a more stylized feel, the track feels like a natural progression from their last album while still being a very enjoyable song that keeps your foot tapping throughout. This song is one of the stronger off the album, if not for anything else but its ability to stay enjoyable and keep you tapping along with it.
The album continues to fix itself with Where’d You Go, a more relaxing track that seems more in line with Walk The Wire than Limit Of Love. Adding a piano ever so briefly in the background of the song also does wonders to it, as it improves the quality of the song tenfold. This is Boy & Bear as it should be at this stage of their career, with the track even echoing a little back to Part Time Believer off their first album Moonfire.
Hollow Ground continues the flow of relaxing tunes that dominates the first half of the album, and here the piano is given another chance to shine. The only real complaint that I have in regards to this track is that it seems to be drifting too much towards the ‘mainstream’ Indie Folk style that many artists employ these days, with the track being more in place on a Decemberists album than a Boy & Bear album, however this is not necessarily a bad thing.
Thankfully, Breakdown Slow plays like one of those songs that has that essential Boy & Bear sound and I could not think of any other bands that would produce a song similar to this. The song plays like an extension from Harlequin Dream but slightly more upbeat, with the rolling guitar parts and soft drumming that dominated tracks on the second album, but here they work wonderfully, with this song being more enjoyable than most of the band’s second album.
As we reach the halfway mark of the album, we see a shift away from the more relaxing tunes to an approach at more meaningful tracks in Showdown. However, this track fails to reach its potential. With excellent lyrics, the song fails to use them for most of the track, instead laying them over a mostly empty and bland track that fails to build. However the choruses excellently come together and there are points in the final minute of the song that suggest it could have been something great, but the rest of the track just fails to be there.
The following A Thousand Faces continues its move away by trying to call back to Walk The Wire, with an eerily similar guitar riff and more synth than you can poke a stick at. While I normally am a fan of synth when used right (Like by the Wombats on Glitterbug), here it just feels a bit gimmicky and comes of as an attempt to merge their sound to a more modern sound and in this track it doesn’t pay off as well as it should.
Thankfully, the album returns to its senses with Man Alone, a track that seems like a track off Harlequin Dream that was inspired by a more country feel and it works wonderfully here. The track is foot tapping and easy to sing along to, all while allowing the instruments to play their parts, with the piano especially taking center stage here. This is one of the strongest tracks on the album and a welcome return to form after a weak middle of the album.
Ghost 11 tries to build on the back of this and for the most part it works well. Echoing the slower tracks from their previous albums, this song is a relaxing one that has more to it. With more intense guitar riffs floating in and out, the song seems to be building throughout the entire track to something more. The synth here is also used very well, just sprinkled in enough so you can hear it but not overwhelming and actually contributing to the feel of the track in a way that adds to it quite a lot.
As we start to close out the album, the longest track Just Dumb sets itself up to be one of the most relaxing tracks on the album. This song feels like one that would suit long summer drives, with its casual feel and relaxing tone that lets you drift along comfortably. The song’s biggest issue is it’s length, at just over five minutes it is not super long, but the almost minute long bridge that pushes the song down a slight experimental path seems very unnecessary to the rest of the song and detracts from the rest of it.
The final track Fox Hole once more follows the band’s desire to end each album with a more relaxing track, but where Moonfire and Harlequin Dream ended with tracks that felt different to the rest of their album, Limit Of Love ends with a track that would sit well in the middle of the album alongside a lot of other songs. This is not to detract from the song, with a very chill feel and lyrics that keep your head bobbing, the song is one of the better ones on the album, however it just feels a little out of place at the end, as a track like Just Dumb would do better as a closer in my opinion.
Limit Of Love is a strange album. There is enough here that calls back to the older Boy & Bear tracks while still progressing and making the songs enjoyable to listen to, but there are a few tracks on the album that just don’t live up to the rather high standard that the band has set through their earlier works.
This might not be the band’s strongest effort to date upon initial listening, but I have a hankering feeling that this one will go the way of Harlequin Dream, an album I did not enjoy initially but warmed up to a lot on repeat listening, eventually becoming one of my favorite albums of 2013. While Limit Of Love didn’t grab my attention straight away, it still keep me tapping along and if it grows as much on me as their previous work, this could be an album of the year contender.
Limit Of Love is available now on Spotify and Amazon.