The Last Bison - Inheritance
Record Label: Universal Republic
Release Date: March 5, 2013
There probably won't be another band quite like the Norfolk, VA ensemble The Last Bison. The septet, which plays self-described mountaintop chamber-folk finds two siblings in a band with their mandolinist father and using instruments including but not limited to: a pump organ and orchestral bells. Their full-length debut Inheritance, out now on Republic Universal is arguably one of the most introspective and long-lasting releases to come across this writer's desk in many a year.
Album opener "Inheritance" is a celestial prelude of violin and bells that imprints an ethereal and serious tone from the beginning. From there, the band launches into the rousing and triumphant "Quil," before making their first wow statement on the inviting and accessible first single "Switzerland." Vocalist Ben Hardesty rises like a siren and the entire effort is lingering, melodic and wholly inviting. Anchored by gorgeous violin, mandolin and cello, if "Switzerland" doesn't move you, then perhaps The Last Bison are not the band for you.
On the heels of "Switzerland is "Dark Am I," an urgent and anxious affair that is equal parts orchestral, lifting and vernal. Buttressed by gorgeous mandolin feels, the song balances dark lyrical territory with sweetly affecting chamber folk arrangements that are nothing short of chill-inducing. The septet settles things down on the placid and contemplative "River Rhine," which is arguably a chance to pull back and dial down. The album's first half ends with its third apex moment, the autumnal and alluring "Tired Hands," a song that ebbs and flows between antic energy and subdued cerebral moments.
The second half of the disc opens with the hushed "Take All The Time," in which Hardesty sounds defeated and yet strangely sweet. The Last Bison are fortunate in that they possess a vocalist who can vacillate between charming and authoritative to defeated and melancholic with aplomb. Both of those traits are on full display in the Victorian yarn "Watches and Chains," a folk caper that rivals that of something Colin Meloy might have written for Picaresque. Hardesty is a gifted storyteller and proves that on the string-filled "Autumn Snow." Though it's arguably the weakest sonic effort on the disc, there are still plenty of bands who would love to have a song such as this in their repertoire. Inheritance closes out with "Distance" and "Sandstone," easily two of the album's most complete efforts.
"Distance" is the song in which The Last Bison make one of their strongest statements to date. Possessing a refined sense of both melody and drama unlike very few of their contemporaries it is equal parts gorgeous, empowering and timeless. Laced with buttery string fills and meticulous nuances, "Distance" is a testament to fortitude and the rigors of being a touring musician. The album closes with "Sandstone," a placid and ruminative effort that lifts gradually and slowly resulting in a brilliant closing statement and a perfect summation of the band's chamber folk aesthetic.
The band writes in the liner notes that they "strive to create art that is good, beautiful and true," and that statement perfectly reflects all of the 11 songs on Inheritance. While rootsy folk music continues to become an in-demand genre, there's little reason to see why The Last Bison won't catapult themselves to success. With tracks like "Switzerland," "Dark Am I," and "Distance," in their canon, the sky is truly the limit. Inheritance is as strong an opening statement as any released this year and with it The Last Bison firmly cement themselves as a band to watch in 2013 and beyond.