When a band describes itself as “mountain-top chamber music,” you know you’re either in for some serious artistry or some glorious cacophony. Luckily, a few listens through Quill, the debut release from indie-folk ensemble Bison, will show you which side of that line they land on. Hailing form Chesapeake, VA and playing a type of acoustic-based, multi-layered, classical-flavored roots music I call “orfolkstral,” Bison combines a variety of talents, instruments, voices and moods to create a uniquely rich sonic experience all their own.
Led by the commanding (and occasionally manic) vocals of frontman Ben Hardesty and supported by a melodically woven patchwork of guitars, strings, organ, mandolin, banjo, xylophone, percussion and more, Bison’s songs ebb and flow with powerful rhythmic surges, lush instrumental passages, rich vocal harmonies and deceivingly complex arrangements. While this is never exactly an easy thing to do, it’s even harder to accomplish when you’ve got a stage full of folks rivaling Arcade Fire or The Polyphonic Spree. In a relatively short time, Bison has impressively learned how to make room for the voices and instruments of each of its seven members, without playing over top of each other or muddying the sonic waters. However, one of the most important things to note about Bison is that at the heart of all of these impressive melodic moments lie actual tried and true, well-crafted songs.
While they will undoubtedly (and unfairly) draw immediate comparisons to bands like The Low Anthem, The Decemberists or even Mumford and Sons, Bison has already crafted a sound that is threaded with their own singular strands of creativity. Songs like “In Your Room,” “Switzerland,” “The Woodcutter’s Son” and “River Rhine” all unfurl in textured, poetic waves that are based far more in inspiration than imitation. Quill is spilling over with these types of musical musings and in my opinion, Bison’s strengths blend together the best on the infectious romp of the titular track “Quill.” Opening with the smooth sway of a mandolin, vocal and strings passage, swelling on a percussive thump and then descending into a whimsical carnival organ outro, “Quill” is a three and half minute thrill ride for your ears and heart. Bison isn’t your run-of-the-mill folk band and Quill certainly isn’t your run-of-the-mill debut album, so head on up to the mountain and give them a listen!
When writer Will Hodge isn’t wanting to go to magnolia mountain and lay his weary head down, you can find him running off at the keyboard about music, concerts and vinyl at My So-Called Soundtrack.