The Last Bison - Inheritance EP
Record Label: Universal Republic
Release Date: Oct. 20, 2012
The Last Bison are a chamber folk septet from Chesapeake, VA. The EP is the prelude to a full-length due out in 2013, and the follow-up to 2011's criminally overlooked Quill. The group, which is fronted by Ben Hardesty, features his sister Annah on bells, his father Dan on mandolin and banjo, lifelong friend Andrew Belfante on pump organ, Andrew's brother Jay on assorted percussion, Teresa Totheroh on violin and Amos Housworth on cello.
How is it?
"Switzerland," is sweet and inviting and buttressed by bells and acoustic guitar. Hardesty is a strong-lunged vocalist who knows when to dive in and when to pull back. There's a definite theatrical overtone that calls to mind Colin Meloy and Marcus Mumford but is very much its own entity. The song more or less glides along the strength of Hardesty's vocals until the 2:46 mark when a violin solo enters the fray and carries the song forward.
"Distance," follows much of the same progression as "Switzerland," but is more urgent and anxious. Ostensibly a song about a long-distance relationship, it is once again anchored by a riveting chorus, gorgeous violin lines and celestial bells. Equal parts entrancing, hypnotic and undeniably melodic, its as a gorgeous testament to a band that knows its way around a song.
"Dark Am I," opens as a ringing and jangly folk tune but dives into something more akin to an elegiac prayer. The highlight of the song is backing vocals from bells player Annah Hardesty, and a rousing mandolin lick. And while its not as stirring as the first two, it certainly isn't bland either.
The EP ends with "River Rhine," a hushed ballad that is arguably the best song on here and nothing short of stunning. Moving away from The Decemberists comparison, the song seems steeped more in Low Anthem country and its a sentiment the band should certainly revisit in future efforts. When artistry is this well-executed it is something truly entrancing and an absolute delight to behold. And therein lies the power and beauty of The Last Bison. Come to think of it, this might be the most impressive EP that has landed on this reviewer's desk all year.
I live a stone's throw from these guys, been out to see them at the Norva three times now. So phenomenal. Wish this had more than one new song on it, but still, stoked for the full length and to see a band I watched form from the roots upward make something of themselves.
So glad to see they folks getting attention here. Quill is such a terrific album, so beautiful. I'm looking forward to hearing this EP. Definitely a band on the rise, one to keep a real close eye on; they're going to do great things.