Megafaun – Heretofore
Words: Matt Sueper

For a folk band, Megafaun’s sound is hard to pin down.  Its shape-shifting, progressive qualities combine with traditional instruments and folk values for a peculiar and tasteful slurry.  It can be traced back to the band’s days playing with Justin Vernon in the band DeYarmond Edison.  Both Vernon and Megafaun have amassed a hefty share of critical acclaim since parting ways, Vernon namely for his album and change as Bon Iver (not to mention his recent collaboration with Kanye West) and Megafaun for their spectacular second album, Gather, Form & Fly.

After positive reviews for the album across the board, one might expect Megafaun’s third album build off their strange sounds and create something even farther outside of the folk realm (think Flaming Lips meet outer space).  The band instead took the safer route.  Heretofore is not unlike Gather, Form & Fly; one might even think of the new album as six B-side tracks strewn together.  Perhaps Megafaun went with the good ole fashioned “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality in creating their third album.  A more likely theory is that they are toning down their sound, or at least making it more orthodox (there are significantly less weather sound effects in this album).

The key tracks on Heretofore are the title track and single “Volunteers”, reminiscent of two key tracks, “Kauffman’s Ballad” and “The Fade”, from Gather, Form & Fly.  Don’t get the wrong idea, though.  “Heretofore” is spellbinding, and a fair warning: “Volunteers” will induce swooning.  “Heretofore,” the leadoff track, begins with expected slow guitar picking and vocal harmonies.  It goes on overlaying oddly appeasing electronic beeps, and in the middle of the song all structure crashes down (classic Megafaun), and white noise and other audio samples are inserted only to have Brad and Phil Cook’s sweet voices rescue us to send us on to the second track.  “Volunteers” is a much more traditional folk song.  This song is just a plain and simple single: simple chord progressions, accent banjo picking, and one damn catchy chorus.  It’s the type of song that’ll have you singing the chorus randomly for a week afterwards.

“Carolina Days” is another strong track on this mini-album, though it’s nothing to put on repeat.  The experimental sound for which Megafaun is known shines through on the danceable track, “Eagle”, and it radiates from the instrumental track, “Comprovisation for Connor Pass.”  The twelve and a half minute marathon of a song takes some patient ears or a clear intent to nap.  The album ends on “Bonnie’s Song”, a pleasant track featuring bongo drums and ghostly violins.  It shows Megafaun’s full repertoire with traditional banjo picking and beautiful harmonies, oddball instruments and pacing violins.  All six songs are good, but perhaps “album” (or even “mini-album”) is the wrong label.  I can’t help but feel a little unsatisfied with a six-song album; without any groundbreaking improvement, it’s hard not to think of Heretofore as an EP, but a good one at that.

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[…] is full-band.  And this is my first time playing with a band tonight – well, live.  I mean, Megafaun backed me up live once, but this is my first time with, like, a drummer and a bass player.  Just […]

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