Megafaun: Heretofore Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are four reactions, four impressions, Four Takes on Heretofore by Megafaun.
Matt Linden (Reviler)
Building upon their forward-thinking 2009 freak folk release Gather, Form and Fly, North Carolina’s Megafaun continue their organic growth on their “mini” album Heretofore. Ever since brothers Brad and Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund created Megafaun out of the demise of DeYarmond Edison (with Bon Iver’s Justing Vernon), they have been getting better, tighter and more accessible. Unlike Gather, Form and Fly, which showcased a folk band in the most untraditional sense of the word and very few “single”-type moments save for “The Fade,” Heretofore has the band bringing together a collection of songs that, for the most part, could garner them attention from a broader crowd. That’s not to say that the numerous layers, strange key changes and meandering song structures aren’t here, because they certainly are. Megafaun just seems to be tightening the reigns to bring tracks that follow a more traditional structure. And although the band has dubbed Heretofore a “mini-LP” it comes to a healthy 34 minutes and even boasts a 12-minurte instrumental track “Comprovisation for Connor Pass.” And with another promised LP by the end of the year and a constant touring schedule, the dudes of Megafaun may be one of the most prolific groups around. I was a big fan of Gather, Form and Fly, but by comparison, the collection of songs offered on the mini album far outweigh their predecessor. The album’s opener and namesake, “Heretofore,” showcases the band’s incredible ear for organic harmonies. While “Eagle” is a perfect example of the band’s rollicking down home influence equipped with gang vocals and added horn work from Slaraffenland. Country twang fuels the band’s first single “Volunteers” while “Bonnie’s Song” may be one of the band’s most beautiful songs to date. Whatever you want to end up calling Heretofore, there’s no denying its staying power. This record has been on repeat since I got it and I plan on wearing the thing out.
Jon Schober (Radio K)
Megafaun epitomizes much about the Midwest, and at this point in their career, not many folks need an explanation of where they come from and whom they have collaborated with throughout the years. It has taken a while for this out-of-region reviewer to warm up to the “Midwest sound” which as much as we might not want to admit it, falls humbly and snuggly in the realm of varying degrees of folk music.
What’s great about this band though is that they make some of the most memorable music within the genre compared to the fleeting sounds of so many imitations. It’s easy to get stuck in a style that people come to expect without much surprise, but Megafaun continually pushes past it, incorporating unexpected instrumental experimentation whenever possible, electronic blips amongst layered guitar and banjo melodies, or 13-minute lulling soundscapes like “Comprovisation for Connor Pass” off their new mini-LP “Heretofore.” It also helps when you have members of the Danish band Slaraffenland on horns whose own album went dramatically unexamined last year.
This new collection of 6-songs isn’t as immediately strong as their last album “Gather, Form & Fly,” but it’s still a commendable effort. It starts off strong with the sprawling title track which introduces us to some wild key changes- a very dark way to begin things. But by the time things roll around to “Volunteers,” it’s a little too backwoods country and makes me feel like I’m home in Texas. The aforementioned 13-minute track feels very out-of-place as the next song, but the last three minutes of it are explosive, and the wait is worth it. Unfortunately, the previous 10 minutes don’t keep you captivated enough without wanting to fast forward.
This is probably one of those albums where Megafaun had a ton of outtakes and wanted to release them to the world in at least some capacity which is fine by me. Any material by them is going to be good; if anything, the flow of tuneage is a great way to see a band attempting to continually expand their reach and ideas to a place that extends beyond the Midwest.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
Megafaun’s new mini-album Heretofore seems to be a bit of a litmus test for the band’s desire to take their sound in a more experimental/jazz-oriented direction. In a recent interview Brad Cook said of the new album: “it…has the most far-reaching stuff we’ve ever put on a record,” and that definitely shows on several of the new tracks. Titular “Heretofore” as well as “Eagle” are both great examples of Megafaun’s continuing musical evolution. The former underlines the group’s country/folk sound with some minimal and nicely worked digital doodling. The latter incorporates a huge variety of instrumentation as well as sampling, placing barrelhouse piano alongside toy piano, banjo with saxophone, and a host of other musical elements (the sum total sounding a bit like a jazzier Odelay single). If “Eagle” is Megafaun’s future than it’s a future I can get on board with. On the other hand tracks like “Carolina Days” and “Volunteers” seem to represent the more iconic country stylings of Megafaun’s less forward thinking past. They are nice if not terribly interesting. And then there is “Comprovisation for Connor Pass,” a twelve and a half minute jazz ramble that seems like a self-indulgence best gotten out of the system before the band’s next full length. Overall there is some good with the bad, but I am inclined to take the bad with a grain of salt since Heretofore seems more like the band is just putting its toe in the water to test out some new ideas.
One thing I really like about Megafaun is that they seem like they are constantly growing and trying out new things. The first time I saw them, a few years back with Bon Iver at the old Uptown Bar, they played uninhibited, noisy alt country that reminded me of a more unhinged Wilco. Over the years, they have softened the edges of their songwriting and expanded the scope of their outlook, to the point where their new album, Heretofore, is only 6 songs long, but stretches out over 35 minutes. This isn’t to say that they have become a jam band, but they definitely aren’t afraid to “explore” with their sound (see the 12 minute long Comprovisation for Connor Pass). Heretofore is a rich, organic “mini” album that shows the band in their continued musical journey. The record comes across to me as a bridge record, a not quite as great but still good follow up to their last LP, 2009’s Gather, Form and Fly. The album showcases the groups ever increasing harmonies and is the type of record that seems to be equally simple and complex, the kind of record only a band who is in a continuous state of evolution could make. Although it isn’t my favorite output from the group, it is another solid entry in the catalog of a group who I am always excited to hear new material from.