Release Date: 09/28/11
Reviewer: Josh Hamm
- They Are Filled
- Setting Our Tables
- River Rhine
- Woodcutter’s Son
- In Your Room
- Autumn Snow
- Tired Hands
- Dark Am I
When I hear the word “Bison” I immediately think of a stampede. Of wild beasts thundering across the plains. Luckily, the band Bison evokes a similar vision with their music. Full of vibrant energy and enthusiasm, they sound as if they would put on an absolutely amazing live show. Comprised of seven members and a plethora of instruments, Bison is able to create an organic folk vibe while maintaining musical complexity. They don’t sacrifice intricacy for the sake of simplicity: they’ve blended them together to create an authentic soundscape that draws in the listener. That’s why it’s so hard to believe that Quill is their debut album.
The whole “beasts thundering across the plains” wasn’t all hyperbole, Quill doesn’t ease you in; their lead single “Switzerland” cascades over you with powerful vocals and instruments to match. Sure, the song may technically have a slow start, a simple picking pattern and soft bells and strings, but when you listen to the song as a whole, you forget that and all you can remember is the sing along chorus that opens up, as Ben Hardesty belts out “Oh oh Switzerland/Youʼve taken way my breath now once again.” His voice is what carries the song. He has one of those unrefined, rough voices that can carry a harmony as easily as a growl.
As far as lyrics go, Bison uses them sparingly, relying on repetition and short, simple phrasing to carry the meaning while most songs are carried on the backs of the phenomenal music and diverse instruments. Normally, I would be upset by this. I prefer rich, thought provoking lyrics which would be interesting without the music behind it. In Bison’s case though, there’s enough nuance and lyrical depth to keep my attention, and they can pull simplicity because their ability to weave songs together is so remarkable.
Take the song “Iscariot,” (one of their best) for how their simplicity and repetition of lyrics can still portray a powerful and emotive story. At six minutes, most of the lyrics are the repeating of “Iscariot, Iscariot/ The devil has you now/ You’re set up for betrayal/ Iscariot, Iscariot/The devil has you now/ Your kiss tastes like a crown of thorns.” But, near the end the last verse is from Jesus’ perspective, softly singing “I have used, I have used / Your unbelief, to set them free / So die now, die now my Judas.” Not much depth to the words in and of themselves, but powerful in the story they tell and the emotions they evoke.
Like many great groups right now, such as Fleet Foxes or Seryn, one of the best instruments in Bison’s arsenal is their group harmonies. Like the rest of their instruments, they’re featured in just about every song, but a few of the stand outs are the ambient “River Rhine,” “Woodcutter’s Son,” which feels like a poignant fairy tale, the quiet and personal “Tired Hands,” and the Song of Songs inspired closing song, “Dark Am I.”
I didn’t find many flaws in the album, while it’s not perfect by any means, there’s not much wrong with it. Ben’s voice both adds and detracts from the album, because while I love a raw folk voice as much as the next guy, his can be a little much at times, I found it getting shrill on higher notes and borderline annoying at times. Though on some songs, like “Switzerland”, his voice is what makes the song great. The album also somewhat lacks a sense of unity. The music flows well, but I didn’t get a sense of an overarching theme or cohesive feel to the album lyrically. I don’t require a concept album, but I find that having a central theme can add a lot of depth to an album.
Overall: Quill is the type of debut that every band should aspire to create. It ranges from intricate to grand, and makes music that is catchy and infectious without being annoying. You want Bison’s music to be stuck in your head. What’s truly amazing is their ability to craft music intricate to the ear yet simple to the soul. Do yourself a favour and grab the album, then put it on repeat for a while and crank up the volume, you won’t regret it.
RIYL: Seryn, Mumford and Sons, ElisaRay, Fleet Foxes, The Decemberists
Get the album: Bandcamp/Noisetrade