Megafaun’s latest effort, Heretofore, is the band’s most ambitious set to date, a collection of six songs that clocks in at just over half an hour. Unfortunately, it’s also the first project on which their ambition at times exceeds their grasp. Adding the “prog” tag to anything is a tricky proposition; it requires dead-on editorial instincts to filter out indulgent asides and to remain focused on a singular vision. Heretofore suggests that the three men behind Megafaun, Joe Westerlund and brothers Phil and Brad Cook, haven’t yet developed those instincts, and their brand of progressive, avant-garde Americana occasionally derails.
“Eagle” opens with aimless, amelodic noodling around with string instruments and found sounds before the acoustic guitars and drums abruptly kick in, resolving into a more conventional song structure. That Megafaun are deconstructionists is one of their selling points, but “Eagle” simply overstays its welcome, and the experimentation takes too long to get to any meaningful result. The instrumental “Comprovisation for Connor Pass” is the most tedious of the band’s experiments. I’ve known plenty of molecular biology PhD students who have taken less time to arrive at their end results than Megafaun does here. That they lay bare their thesis right there in the song’s title, a hybrid of formal composition and free-form improv, doesn’t make the song any less self-indulgent once it trips into its third distinct movement.
Again, it’s a matter of editing, and of figuring out when a particular impulse either is or isn’t in service of a song or a broader thematic point. And it speaks to everything that Megafaun generally does right that what doesn’t work about Heretofore comes down to some highly sophisticated matters of aesthetics and composition. When the songs are more focused, as “Carolina Days” and “Volunteers” are, Heretofore highlights the technical skill and genre-blurring vision that makes Megafaun one of the most captivating acts in Americana. But when their ideas run too far out of bounds, the album also makes it clear that Megafaun hasn’t quite figured themselves out yet.