Even if the market for neo-folkies with scraggly beards is reaching full saturation, Megafaun’s sophomore album, Gather, Form & Fly, brings renewed energy to a sub-genre that nearly collapsed under two years’ worth of Fleet Foxes hype. What makes Gather such a captivating listen is the internal conflict that characterizes its sound: The trio (brothers Brad and Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund) make roots music that is tethered to the ground by just a few scant tendrils. Their use of traditional acoustic instruments and precise, old-timey vocal harmonies make such standout cuts like “The Process” and “The Longest Day” recognizable as folk or Americana, but the ramshackle structures of those songs and the inspired use of a banjo as an unpredictable, psychedelic instrument transform them into something more evolved. Despite the use of some unexpected sonic flourishes (the phenomenal instrumental break in “Solid Ground” that comes not from an electric guitar but from a blues harmonica, and the ghostly way the vocal track dislodges from the music on “Guns”), the album feels organic in the best possible sense of the term, making it all but impossible to determine what was composed in advance and what was improvised in the studio. With their masterful use of texture and loose regard for conventional structure, Megafaun is among the few modern folk acts capable of pulling off real surprises. That they also pull off genuine pathos and sincerity makes Gather all the more rare an achievement.
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