Megafaun – Megafaun

January 01, 1970



who will maybe be known from now until the end of days as the three guys Justin
Vernon left behind when he trooped up to Wisconsin to record For Emma, Forever Ago, have been
steadily improving on their cracked country ramblings for three albums now. Their
self-titled album, the fourth in their catalogue, is the best of the lot,
bringing all their elements – the easy tunefulness, the eerie harmonies, the
homespun instruments bent to experimental ends – into focus. It’s an album
accessible enough to support some very mainstream comparisons, the Grateful
Dead and CSNY, for instance. But it is also tinged with eccentric personality,
bursting with extended improvisations and not at all hemmed in by its pretty


This is an
album built on slow-rocking anthems, kicked into guitar by hard swats at the
cymbals and smudged with the drone of amp-altered guitar sounds. “Real Slow,”
the opener, lightens ponderous tempos with radiant three-part harmonies, and
asks, what’s the hurry anyway, when “Everyone knows/if it starts too fast,
it’ll end real slow.”  “Get Right” is
even better, its main melody swathed in zen-like serenity, its extended
instrumental break glistening with psychedelic layers of intersecting guitar.  And “Resurrection,” later in the album,
completes the trio of country-rocking side-winders, with ringing, chiming
guitars and laid-back, wear-wrinkled vocals. 
These are tunes that find the mind-bending spirituality in the most
straight-laced of country influences.


Yet if
Megafaun has become a pretty good country rock band, there are still plenty of
warped edges to remind you where they came from. This is a band, after all, whose
first album came out on experimental label Table of Elements and has toured
with much weirder-than-they-get-credit-for Akron/Family. For this album,
recorded at Vernon’s April Base studio in Eau Claire, Wisconsin,
Megafaun has put together a rag-tag marching band of accompaniers. Woozy brass,
moody clarinet, sprightly flourishes of strings emerge out of the corners of
many of these songs – and two cuts feature Adam Heathcott playing something
called a Reactable Mobile, whatever that it.  Most of the album’s songs use these sounds as
a flavoring, folding them and assorted found sounds and tape manipulations,
into rock and country oriented endeavors. However, “Serene Return” is a
traditional song viewed through a kaleidoscope, its folk melody chopped and
fuzzed and processed so that it sounds more like Stars Like Fleas than Vetiver.


lovely, more than anyone can say for the record’s final, most experimental
track, “Rooster Egg,” its mess of recorded sounds hidden behind a few minutes
of introductory silence, and including, as a highlight, some guy talking about
his “paper bag guitar.” Here’s the thing about hidden tracks:  they’re annoying and pointless and almost
never worth the wait.


Yet aside
from that one cut, Megafaun’s self-titled album seamlessly integrates an
easy-going tuneful-ness with a nearly mystical devotion to tone and texture. Better
recording quality helps. These are tunes that have a lot of parts, and the
extreme clarity of sound allows you to hear them all at once, separately and
together. It’s like peering to the bottom of a very deep, very clear pond. But
more than that, the Cook brothers, Phil and Brad, and Joe Westerlund, seem to
have found a balance between the warmth and purity of their country rock
influences and the intellectual challenge of continuing experimentation. This
is the album that pulls it together, their best yet, and who knows, maybe the
one that will get people to say, “Justin Vernon?  Isn’t he the guy that left Megafaun just
before they hit it big?”


DOWNLOAD: “Get Right” “Resurrection” JENNIFER KELLY



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