Megafaun Gather, Form & Fly

[Hometapes; 2009]

Styles: experimental Southern folk-pop
Others: Akron/Family, The Great White Jenkins

Over the past few years, the climate has become such that hippies can safely come out of the closet and walk among the indie-types. With the rising popularity of bands that sound more and more like they sat in the woods, smoked, and studied The Bands' Stage Fright and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Déjà Vu rather than putting on dumb masks and cranking The Knife's Silent Shout, there is enough social capital spinning around that an extended “Cosmic Charlie” jam can be enjoyed without the fear of losing that so desperately worked-for cool. But the rest of us don’t give a fuck about any of this new-fangled security, because we’ve always proudly walked the world holding The Grateful Dead's Workingman’s Dead and Black Flag's Damaged tightly in our arms, unable to see why any sharp distinction from the categorizers-in-power should determine the sounds we love and fight to.

So the walls have been torn down, thus allowing a space for the indie-normalization process of this previously excluded hippie-sounding aesthetic. However, even if this troubling process had not ensued — even if there weren’t indies running all over various Yankee cities wearing flannel shirts despite the heat of summer and, with a fake southern accent, singing about red squirrels — Megafaun’s new album would still be as solid as it is. The pop-complexity and improvised-playfulness of 2008’s Bury The Square has carried over in a much richer form on Gather, Form & Fly. The band also captures and expresses their Southern roots to a greater extent on the new album, opening up with tranquil fingerpicking, piano, and fiddle on “Bella Marie,” setting the stage perfectly for the transition into the banjo-led “Kauffman’s Ballad.” Unlike most of the other bands who have recently pursued similar musical themes, Megafaun sound more like they are engaging historical forms because it is what they have known and lived rather than for the sake of hip appropriation. While conversations about authenticity are always as pretentious as they are vacuous, there is at least some distinction that can be plausibly made between being and seeming.

Megafaun, while embracing traditional forms and instruments, also challenge them, pushing them in a healthy, pop-conscious direction. “Impressions of the Past” shows the band’s creative restlessness as the track constantly and unexpectedly undermines its own trajectory, eventually reaching a well-harmonized sing-along that celebrates the openness of historical perspectivalism. “Guns” begins with fairly straightforward pop-glory, but ends up dispersing into feedback-shimmers, noise-blasts, and gong-hits. Here, the comparison to Akron/Family is one that must surely be made, for both bands bravely wear their hair long (figuratively, perhaps) and simultaneously embrace and challenge the roots of the same Southern canon. But the breath that makes the comparison must be followed by one that mentions the material connections between the two: they have toured together, made music together, and, in 2007, joined by drone-master Greg Davis, released the Om EP. Like their friends in Akron/Family, Megafaun playfully navigate the spaces between experimentation, shout-along raucousness, and intimate, confessional folk-pop tradition.

The last (and first) time I saw Megafaun was at Gallery 5 in Richmond, VA. They were running throughout a receptive crowd with tambourines and various handheld percussive noisemakers, facilitating a sing-along revival on a boozy New Year’s night. Gather, Form & Fly manages to capture much of that interactive energy, compelling the listener to dust off her vocal cords and spoons in order to join the revelry. It’s hard to hear songs like “The Process” and the bluesy “Solid Ground” without imagining bodies singing and dancing around backyard fires. This call to action aside, the album contains many self-reflective moments, such as “Worried Mind” and “The Longest Day,” which provide the listener a much needed moment to gaze into, rather than swirl around, the fire. There’s no guitar-noodling or jammy bullshit on Gather, Form & Fly. It’s just a solid album that, like the title implies, holds onto its historical surroundings as much as it moves beyond them.

1. Bella Marie
2. Kaufman's Ballad
3. The Fade
4. Impressions of the Past
5. Worried Mind
6. The Process
7. Solid Ground
8. Darkest Hour
9. Gather, Form & Fly
10. Columns
11. The Longest Day
12. Guns
13. Tides

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