Megafaun, Heretofore, 2010

Excepting the extended jammy meandering that is “Comprovisation For Connor Pass,” on Heretofore Megafaun bust out their tuniest songwriting chops and craft some quite beautiful (Laurel Canyon-type) country numbers with sumptuous melodies, instrumentation and sweet harmonizing. We heard a little of this on 2009’s awesomely cool Gather, Form & Fly but here it’s a more solid experience, and they’ve perhaps grown more into their musical selves rather than their deliberate reworking of that Akron/Family aesthetic so prominent on GF&F. There’s avante jazziness in here too which keeps the music interesting. Other more modern touchstones for this hip kind of groove-based guitar music might include the Beta Band and Gomez. Bumstead likes this so much he’s gonna smother it in teeeexxxt….

Heretofore… nice guitar figures wind around each other, faint gurgling backwards effects, and soft melodic harmony-style voices singing about “aching creases weak and worn,” “paper lines” that “paralyse,” “Tired eyes” that “Empathize / Empty hands and idle time.” None of it much makes syntactical literal sense; just glimpses, phrases, to suggest some kind of breaking down. Lots of quite neat suitably weird concrete-noise effects run throughout the background. The melody is soft and easy on the ears. A very pastoral vibe and phrases like “sparrow spines” and “widened tines” support this feel. It’s all very much an internal journey though, ergo the chorus part: “Follow silent climb / Inside.”

Carolina Days… love this one. Some great harmonizing beneath the main chorus, faster rhythm, like a super mellow John Fogerty singing about their adopted homeland, North Carolina: “Headed up through the wine / For gypsy girls and redwood trees of the California kind,” and the superb harmonized chorus: “My oh my oh / Southern sky / Raise me from the clay / Why oh why / Would I be shy / On a Carolina day.” They seem to be on a symbolic mission to the heart of Americana here, searching for “a pink house in the Catskills / Over the Ulster County line.” That would probably be The Band they’re after then. Great groove.

Eagle… is the closest they get to Akron/Family on Heretofore. The first minute contains a vocal line twisting among various found sounds. We get a couple of verses of meaningless phrases before the groovy melody kicks in, prominent bass line. Lyrics seem to point towards positivity and recovery: “You’ll fly like an eagle / You’ll fly like you broke from your reins” and “Friends become faded / Wonderin’ if you’re torn / Findin’ your new form / You’ll fly like an eagle / You’ll fly like a baby born.” Then we get an extended jazzy interlude with sax while that groovy rhythm section keeps things together. The sax seems to be saxes, multiple, multi-tracked, the sound of someone bursting their lungs trying to play the thing. Then we get a whole chorus with nine extra singers “oh woahing” in the background. Great stuff.

Volunteers… is another sweet melody with banjo, warm bass, that Beta Band aesthetic of a lazy beat, and “sunlight silhouettes of dogwood trees.” It’s hard to tell quite what’s happening in this song. He’s in love with someone but it’s not working out: “Bottom line, might be time / For you and I to say goodbye.” And that loping beauty of a chorus: “Sunlight silhouettes of dogwood trees / Swayin’ all alone in the Caroline breeze / I ask for your hand and you ask for a please / Tell me now girl, do I stay or do I leave?” Great little number.

Comprovisation For Connor Pass… is lyric-less. It starts with tiny curlicues of guitar notes, acoustic blips, snippets, all very mellow and pensive, early morning kind of stuff. The occasional piano note or cymbal punctuates the otherwise dreamy riffs, until, after about a minute and a half, drums join. It’s all very soft and thoughtful, slow too, but not without melody. Once the hi-hat is engaged and the bass introduced, it seems to speed up briefly before breaking down again into its constituent parts. I don’t know who Connor Pass is and I can only guess that ‘comprovisation’ is a composite of ‘co’ – meaning ‘together’ and most of the word ‘improvisation.’ Which is certainly how this comes across – musicians coming together to improvise. It could probably put you to sleep easily enough. There are horns in here and fiddle too. This stately, light airy pace continues until we lose both the rhythm and melody, replaced instead by solo Mark Hollis-lite, a mournful minor space-embracing minimalism that runs for several bars. When the rhythm re-emerges it sounds like a garden again, that buzzing clarinet sound I suppose is the main culprit. Pastoral, ambient, rhythmic and arrhythmic, acoustic, cymbals, introspective, a lovely sound. Very pretty.

Bonnie’s Song…  more mellowness, while banjo, lightly padded drums, sax, bass clarinet, and guitar craft a bee-buzzing-among-the-flowers erratic rhythm. Even the vocals slip in and out of the tune. The lyrics seem to be about the end of things, disintegration, cremation. We get lines about winter falling away, melting ice which breaks, ashes and thoughts separating amid the floaty call-response feel of the chorus: “Set it on fire / Let it float away / Everything burns the same.” Presumably it’s a death lament, but hardly a dirge. Quite a lovely little tune to fade out on. The tune is kept light despite what must be heavy subject matter: “Decorate the base / Declare a final grace.”

So, a bit short, but another congenial release from Megafaun. If I have to criticize it, I would say that these guys are primarily and foremost musicians rather than wordsmiths. Their lyrics are usually in the abstract, philosophical, metaphorical, but never dealing with the concrete minutiae of life, too fluffy for that. This could be their undoing, because while we’re willing to put up with it early in a band’s career, if they keep it up, you eventually come to surmise that they don’t really have anything specific, antagonistic, or politic they want to say. Specificity however, that is concrete details, is where the real connections lie. The next album, self-titled Megafaun, would move even further away from their experimental side.

About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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