One evening in August I found myself in desperate need of some new music to lose myself in. Do you get that, not just an urge but an actual throb for something new?
I'd been digging the music hole deeper and wider, looking for some new directions and taking a wander into the unknown at every opportunity. Listening to Midlake led me to Jimmy Spheeris' 1971 masterpiece "Isle of View", some Hold Steady later and I was switched on to vintage Springsteen and then after sessions listening to the Volcano Choir, Phosphorescent and Port O'Brien - I found myself at Megafaun. Serendipity lent a hand that night and sponsored my next few clicks online and soon I realised they were due to play at the Brudenell in early September. It was meant to be.
A band I'd only just discovered with a new album due out and a gig on my doorstep. I didn't know much about the band other than some of the members had been in a band with Justin Vernon. I'd only heard the back catalogue and one new track prior to the gig but buying a ticket was a certainty. After the gig, buying this album was inevitable - a reflex to one of the best live performances I've seen in years. But what would it be like on cd without the banter, the atmosphere and the unforgettable vibe that night offered and would I like it as much as the earlier releases?
"People come from miles just to take a seat and watch the show". The bands' invite for you to take music as they intend to play it, from the opener "Real Slow", sets the stall out early. Don't expect pacey riffs or pulsating rhythms here - the offerings here are of the slow-cooker variety and whereas some tunes are more traditionally melodic, others are more layered and pensive. Overall the ingredients are spot on but if like me - you'll find the odd moment where the linear meanders off into the bizarre - and that this fits better in some songs than others. Incidentally, I mentioned the Justin Vernon links with Megafaun. Well, if you're a Bon Iver fan and are hoping to find something you're familiar with, the closest you will get is "Kill the Horns". Not to do the song a disservice but I'll refrain from a descriptive on this one - but it's a beautiful song.
The more I listen to the album I start to hear other influences - or perhaps just nuances. (Who am I to say they have my cd collection to hand?) One thing is clear - this band don't want to write one style of song and re-work it over and over. The experimentation and other-worldliness of the electro-acoustic samples in "These Words" adds another dimension to a rich vocal arrangement. "Second Friend" affects a bridge between The Beta Band and Peter Broderick, offering a simple beauty owing in part to the horns and strings.
This willingness to shift and experiment continues in one of the zanier moments, with the introduction to "Isadora" offering global sounds to the Americana sentimentality found elsewhere. Like in a few other places on the album, this unusual start - almost like a drunken Mariachi wedding band - then settles into a more traditional piece. Americana in its more traditional form is more evident in "Hope You Know" and "Everything". "Postscript", the penultimate track, has a dreamscape quality to it - combining a cosmic feel with the sort of rootsy isolation I've found before in Ry Cooder compositions - the "Paris, Texas" soundtrack being the obvious comparison.
Overall, I'm happy with this album being added to the bowed shelves. There are moments I drift off and a couple I don't actually like but no entire songs that don't belong. Would I buy the album over again? Definitely. Would I go to see them play live again? No question.