I want you to remember something, boys and girls: “maturity” is not necessarily synonymous with “boring.”
Take Megafaun, for instance. Their self-titled latest release finds (blood brothers) Brad and Phil Cook and (musical brother) Joe Westerlund secure and solid. Four albums in, the trio has settled comfortably into their role as intergalactic-folk angels dressed in shimmering flannel, capable of incredible sonic shape-shifting at the shave of a beard while managing to always sound like themselves. And that’s the deal: it doesn’t matter what the underpinnings, whether it be a sweet, slow “Wharf Rat”-like lurch (the album-opening “Real Slow”) or beats without borders (“These Words”, a study of percussion as melody/vocals as percussion/malleable organic-yet-sorta-techno sound). As soon as those Megafauners begin to sing, it all becomes one – not in a predictable way, mind you … but in a “Ah – Megafaun!” way.
The maturity comes from Megafaun’s having recognized what’s already good about what they do (their virtuosity with various instruments and so-good-they-ought-to-be-arrested vocal harmonies) coupled with their “I wonder what happens when you turn this …” fearlessness when it comes to experimenting with sonic palettes.
Sometimes it’s hidden in plain sight: the up-front sunny jangle of “Get Right” bounces along nicely on a bed of twisted skwonks, chirps, and beeps from start to finish (all 8 minutes and 31 seconds of it), but which don’t really crawl out into the light until the last couple minutes of the song.
Sometimes it’s RIGHT THERE: “Scorned” features some of the blackest, darkest, deepest, jungle elephant roars ever wrenched out of a harmonica on any planet – hands down.
And sometimes it’s just enough to shade the sky a little between blinks of the eye: that’s a most beautiful piano in the foreground of “Hope You Know” … but it’s the wisps of darker keyboard tone lingering at the end of the choruses that actually dictate the song’s mood.
Some cuts pass through like ghosts (“Serene Return”, whose fluttering candlestick leads the way to the warmth of “You Are The Light”) while others announce their arrival in a big way (dig the half-drunk New Year’s Eve band intro of “Isadora”, that manages to bring the Mothers Of Invention to mind before tripping off lightly into a field of strings and daisies … ahhhhh).
No one’s trying to be tricky or cute here; once you recognize that Megafaun is as comfy with a lightly-clawed banjo as they are with what sounds like a vintage Hallicrafter shortwave with its tuning dial being cranked, then it’s all easy going from there. You can trust Messers. Cook, Westerlund, and Cook – they know the way home even if you don’t and they never leave you hanging on Megafaun. In the end, they’ll wrap you up in “Everything” (featuring guest vox by Frazey Ford of The Be Good Tanyas), all smiley and cozy and safe. (Well, there is the final head spin of “Rooster Egg”, but that’s a hidden track. You might have gone to bed by then.)
This is the sound of a band that not only knows who they are, but also knows that defined doesn’t have to mean confined.
It’s that maturity/boring thing we talked about earlier. Megafaun is living proof.