Folk band The Last Bison’s appropriately-named second album, VA, was written in a cabin in rural Virginia, and it feels like it. It takes abundant technical skill to marry the band’s own kind of musical complexity with rusticity, but the group accomplishes it skillfully. Perpetuating the brand of mountaintop chamber-folk that made their last album, Inheritance, so compelling, The Last Bison has produced a more mature, cohesive compilation that blends mellow folk influences and the freak folk of greats such as Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks.
The first song “Bad Country” opens the album effervescently, with an upbeat ode to adventurism and happy trails. The orchestral elements of The Last Bison are distinctive, incorporating strings, pianos, and bells, while keeping traditional folk staples such as the banjo and mandolin. This fusion results in sparkling intros like the one in “Endview” and an atmospheric hypnosis induced by pieces like “By No Means.”
This melange of nu-classical and classic folk gives the album more depth, as well as movie-soundtrack quality. Lead singer Dan Hardesty’s dynamic and soulful voice is impressive in its own right, and even more so as an instrument among the soaring ensemble of sounds on the album. But for all their theatrical leanings, The Last Bison never lose hold of their folk roots.
There are no weak tracks in this album—only dynamic and tonal shifts, as the listener travels with the band on an emotional and intimate journey through the mountains and valleys of modern Americana. This album deserves to be played all the way through at least once—to listen to it any other way is to miss the way the songs whimsically weave into one another. VA sweeps us away, and the only shame is that after the last track plays, we’re forced to leave The Last Bison’s mountain forests and return to our dorm room walls.
Voice’s Choices: “Endview,” “Every Time”