Megafaun’s last release, Heretofore, stumbled in its attempts to balance the scraggly-bearded North Carolina trio’s prog ambitions with their base as a roots act. On Megafaun, their third full-length, they get their shit together in a pretty significant way. While Heretofore lacked discipline and internal editing, Megafaun is an album that impresses for its maturity and smart aesthetic choices, and it positions Megafaun as one of just a handful of acts with the vision and the technical chops to push the tired Americana and roots scenes in more progressive directions.
“Real Slow” opens the album with a rambling, improvised acoustic introduction before the song kicks in proper with a jolt of percussion and a lackadaisical electric guitar riff. The sound is immediately more polished than that of any of Megafaun’s previous efforts, and the lush three-part vocal harmonies in the refrain owe an obvious, if still surprising, debt to the Beach Boys. On the other hand, the arrhythmic drum line and dissonant, squelchy electronic flourishes on “These Words” (thankfully, not a TashBed cover) are straight-up prog, with the song’s instrumental bridge pushing the boundaries of what can be considered “folk” music.
Had the tag “alt-country” not gone out of vogue almost a decade ago, it wouldn’t be an inaccurate way to describe what Megafaun have come up with here. But songs like the standout “Resurrection” and tremendous instrumental cut “Isadora” are more in line with the alt-country of Beck’s Mutations than, say, the Bottle Rockets or early Wilco. Megafaun still adheres to the conventions of simple folk- and country-song structures, with relatively straightforward melodies and songs that are demarcated into clear verses, choruses, and bridges. But they eschew the linear narratives and plainspoken language of those genres. “Kill the Horns” implores a lover to “dodge all the context and roll out the tide” and to “disregard my honesty, take in only what you need” over an arrangement built on a glockenspiel and an accordion.
Though they challenge genre convention with their choices of instruments and ambitious arrangements, Megafaun have made careful, spot-on assessments of what actually works within the framework of traditional roots music. Much in the same way PJ Harvey keeps her music grounded in her deep understanding of blues formalism, songs like the lonesome “Scorned” and relatively minimalist “You are the Light” prove that Megafaun have developed an intuitive grasp of what their aesthetic will support. But for the jam-band digression of “Get Right,” Megafaun is edited with the real sense of purpose that the band heretofore lacked.