In Brief: While I had my misgivings about the dramatic lineup changes and the complete reinvention of their sound that came with it, The Last Bison has emerged from the other side of all that upheaval sounding incredibly confident in their new skin. The blend of keyboard-heavy rock and worldbeat sounds will probably puzzle a lot of fans who were used to the indie folk ensemble they last heard from, but the melodies and songwriting hold up incredibly well, despite any initial disappointment I may have felt over what was missing. I come back to this one easily as often as I did with VA four years ago.
In Brief: The DMB’s comeback after a six-year gap between albums may not be the most attention-grabbing entry in their discography, but there’s a subtle richness to a lot of the instrumentation that makes it easier to tolerate the usual bits of hedonism and outright nonsense that tend to crop up in the typical Dave Matthews lyric. The band is showing its age a bit at this point, but they also seem to be quite comfortable with that age.
Artist: Tim Be Told
Album: Friends and Foes
In Brief: I admire Tim’s vulnerability as he takes a peek into broken relationships and tries to figure out where things went wrong and how to take the first steps toward reconciliation. But while Tim is a fabulous singer, the music on this record is often a bit too pretty and pristine to really match the conflicts that have led him to bare his soul.
Artist: Various Artists
Album: Hidden Figures: The Album
In Brief: The rare movie tie-in album that I enjoy both as a listening experience in and of itself, and as a strong reminder of key scenes in the film that inspired it. Despite a few moments that fall flat or don’t seem to relate directly to the film’s plot, Pharrell Williams did a pretty good job writing and arranging these songs, and picking the right female voices to bring most of them to life.
In Brief: These songs were left off of VA last year, but that doesn’t mean they were subpar. These are simply the songs that didn’t fit the theme. They’re no less eclectic, addictive, and in the case of the final track, downright beautiful than the album they were cut from.
My concert reports are becoming fewer and farther between as I get older, largely because I’ve become more selective about how much trouble I’m willing to go to in order to see a band live. Simply recreating the sound of the record isn’t enough. There has to be a little something extra about your live show – a special energy, an infectious personality that easily wins over audiences who might not all be familiar with your work, a tendency to change up setlists and sprinkle in surprising deep album cuts, etc. More of the bands I’m into nowadays are independent, so unless they call the West Coast home, they might not even make it out to L.A. terribly often. That’s why I made it a priority to see The Last Bison at The Mint last night, even though driving out to West L.A. on a weeknight isn’t normally something I’d be inclined to do. My wife and I hadn’t been to a live show together since Nickel Creek last May, and The Last Bison was one of those bands that might sound a little rough around the edges on their records, but in a live setting, that’s exactly what makes them so much fun. (Plus The Mint is a comfortably small venue with easy parking on the nearby residential streets, and their rather chill policy regarding cameras and will call and people getting to shows late and all of those other little details that can be a hassle at other venues makes it a place I’d highly recommend if you’re ever fortunate enough to discover that a favorite artist of yours has a gig there.)
In Brief: The Last Bison stick to their strengths on their second full-length, reining in a few of the tendencies that may have made Inheritance an acquired taste, but still churning out beautifully orchestrated and energetic “chamber folk” music with thoughtful lyrics and just enough of a rough edge to remind you that it was recorded in a cabin in the marshlands of Virginia.