taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of the moment



There’s generally some reading between the lines to be done when an established band self-titles an album several discs into their catalog. It’s as if there’s a sort of Bayesian inference to be made into the band’s future — whatever can be assumed from what happened prior to that point is invalid. From this point forward, it all must be considered differently. This is not the case with Megafaun’s third full-length album, Megafaun. The Durham space-folk trio squarely reject that expectation on a record that is somehow their most layered effort, yet also their most immediately accessible. 2009’s Gather, Form & Fly was a charmingly hot mess of disjointed melodies and surrealist sonic oddities that raised more questions than they answered about Megafaun. Megafaun retains that weirdness to a degree, but primarily in the sense that consuming their music to satisfy a pang for folk is like eating pizza for breakfast. It doesn’t feel quite right, but you don’t care because it’s good. Here, the band places songsmanship over exploration from the outset, even if they find themselves overtly borrowing from their canon of influences. Opener “Real Slow” is the most forthright song on the album within a folk context and finds the brothers Brad and Phil Cook engaging in pithily Jerry-esque philosophy. “Take your time…because if it starts too fast, it’s gonna end real slow.” It can be construed as a commentary on the band’s career arc to that point, but it also works as a reference to the deliberateness to which these songs unfold. So slow, in fact, that one doesn’t see the industrial cacophony in “These Words” coming until it hits. It disintegrates and then the song once again becomes a lovely roots ballad that bleeds into the glistening rocker “Get Right.” Yet the semblance to the standout folk tropes of the past is so obvious it almost seems unconscious at times. Everything from the vocal melody to the stately yet simple chords in “State/Meant” feels borrowed from Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” while elsewhere the band channels everything from Frank Zappa’s Apostrophe to Stealer’s Wheel. That said, Megafaun is engrossing and fulfilling; the kind of album that can shepherd a band’s direction, wherever that may be for Megafaun.