Every time we write about a band, there’s something that makes them stand out from the crowd, whether its the addition of particular instrument, the reinterpretation of a genre, or a particularly spectacular singer/musician. The Last Bison, a folk band from Chesapeake, VA (the album is pronounced “Virginia”), have done something different. What strikes me about VA is that its uniqueness is derived from the fact that on about 90% of the album what you don’t hear and don’t notice is the guitar. To have made Southern folk-rock music and made the guitar feel superfluous and unnecessary is what makes this band special.
With the addition of an incredible percussion sound, pianos, and strings, this band has crafted a sound that isn’t really like anything else out there. It’s like progressive folk to today’s folk in the same way you might categorize Emerson, Lake and Palmer as progressive rock to the traditional rock of their day. They’ve eschewed the sound made famous by others for something singular and truly unique. The result, the whole of VA, is a masterpiece.
From the beginning organ and mandolin chords on “Bad Country”, their choral voices and upbeat percussion sounds gives them an energy and layered-ness that replays itself throughout the album. They mix the music, the tone of the song, the voices, and the backgrounds in such a complete and haunting way that it’s hard to stop listening. “Every Time” seems to add a new sound in every verse, ending with a sound that is far more immense than you’d expect, even from a 6 piece band.
While the music itself is hard to stop talking about, there’s no shortage of storytelling on this album as well. “Governor’s Son” is a beautifully written song, one that packs a lot of power into one song. “She Always Waves At The Gate” is another haunting song and one that ends the album on a nearly perfect note and in a perfect way. “Endview” and “Burdens” are both songs that are more personal and all the more impactful because of their combination of music and lyrics.
If you can’t find something to like on VA, you need to listen a few more times. There’s so much music and so many layers on the new album from The Last Bison that you’re doing the band and yourself a disservice by not listening to it the whole way through a few times. You’ll pick up on new reasons for it to be an album of the year on every listen.