Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Megafaun's Grand Statement

By Evan Rytlewski
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Since he reinvented himself as everybody's cool uncle by touring with Sonic Youth in the early '90s, Neil Young has always been in style. His big guitars and all-American bad voice have remained a constant influence, inspiring both the flanneled alternative rockers of the '90s and the flanneled folk revivalists of today. And now, after decades of admirably wearing their uncoolness like a badge of honor, Neil Young's sometimes bandmates Crosby, Stills and Nash are finally getting their due, too, as a new crop of independent artists revive the ensemble's strum-along Americana. Megafaun is among the best of this bunch.

For back story, the Young to Megafaun's Crosby, Stills and Nash is Bon Iver's Justin Vernon, who played with an earlier version of the group so long ago it barely matters. That connection to the indie-folk's posterchild was enough to get Megafaun's foot through the Internet's proverbial door—it certainly helps that Vernon continues to trumpet the North Carolina trio's greatness—but the band's new album should mark the group's liberation from Vernon's mighty shadow. Gather, Form and Fly is as bold a statement as I've heard from the indie-folk movement this year, and that's saying something, given what a fruitful year it's been.

The album is simple in sound—it's easy to imagine the trio writing these songs around a campfire, passing a flask and cracking each other up as they work out their three-piece harmonies—but in scope it revivals Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest, another record forged from an encyclopedic knowledge of American music, both popular and forgotten. Since on the surface, Gather, Form and Fly is all finger-picked guitar, rustic banjo and reedy voice, it's easy to over look how inspired its arrangements are on initial listen, but Megafaun does for a screechy fiddle what Sufjan Stevens does with entire orchestras. Gather, Form and Fly is a glorious achievement that much more charming because it couldn't care less or not whether it comes across as one.

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