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Artist: Megafaun

Album: Megafaun

Label: Home Tapes

Review date: Sep. 19, 2011


Megafaun - "State/Meant" (Megafaun)


Albums made by the North Carolina group Megafaun have a foot in the accessible, yet lean in the direction of something more abstract. Listening to their work — four albums released since 2008 — one can hear songs made by a group rooted and restless in traditional Americana. Their albums to date have been characterized by a bold inventiveness and a willingness to shift musical gears. There were some revelatory moments, as well as a few that may have worked better in theory than in practice. Here, the band’s approach has become more nimble; as a result, Megafaun is its steadiest work thus far.

The cohesiveness of Megafaun presents an odd parallel with this trio’s onetime bandmate in DeYarmond Edison, Justin Vernon. As Vernon’s music as Bon Iver shifts into realms of higher and higher abstraction, Megafaun’s is taking bolder steps in the direction of accessibility — in a good way. It feels like a clarification of sounds heard on previous Megafaun albums as opposed to a repudiation of them.

Megafaun’s self-titled album does, in some ways, demarcate itself from what’s come before. The clattering horns that open “Isadora,” segueing from a variation on “Auld Land Syne” to something entirely of its own parameters, make a strong case for the iconoclasm that follows. (The presence of a vibraphone doesn’t hurt, either.) For all of the focus to be found here, the group hasn’t lost sight of its strengths: “Get Right” slow-fades into an extended vamp on the song’s central motif. It’s a reminder that Megafaun may be catchy, but it isn’t quite pop.

And then there’s “You Are the Light,” which falls close to the end of this album, and which brings together many of its standout elements — the CSNY-laced vocal harmonies of opener “Real Slow,” the seamless accentuation of “Isadora”’s horn section. It’s a song that builds to something beautiful, but doesn’t wear out its welcome; it reaches the point of transition and elegantly pivots away.

This isn’t to say that this album’s strengths are entirely to be found in its composition. Sometimes the group’s use of specific moods and riffs are evocative on their own. Consider the blissed-out soloing on “Resurrection.” And “Scorned” features blistering guitars — somewhere between Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen… and Catherine Wheel’s Chrome. In this context, the strange marriage of post-Americana with riffs and textures commonly associated with shoegaze could be confusing; instead, it’s a warm recontextualization of the familiar.

Throughout Megafaun, the balance between expectation and surprise is maintained neatly. The group does tend to err more on the side of the known, but is quick to veer in surprising directions when the balance threatens to fall too heavily on the side of retro revivalism. “It’s everything we’re heading for,” they sing on the album’s penultimate number, “postscript.” That sounds about right.

By Tobias Carroll

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