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"Gather, Form and Fly"

Megafaun – Gather, Form and Fly
13 October 2009, 09:00 Written by Matt Poacher


There is something vaguely unsettling about 3 folky weird-beards on horseback dabbling with electronic skronk, field recordings and musique concrete; it draws forth images of backwoods sadism, that well explored trope of the wrong-turn ”“ the horror of the American unknown. That Brad and Phil Cook and Joe Westerlund ”“ as Megafaun, on this their second album - not only pull it off but actually make the resulting mess into something warm and wholesome is quite some feat.

I probably shouldn’t overplay the experimental aspect of Gather, Form and Fly as in truth, at heart, this is a American roots record ”“ its DNA is flecked with Déjà Vu, Workingman’s Dead, Big Pink. It’s the savvy way it manages to blend the experimental with this urgent pastoral that makes it such an intriguing album. And in terms of the way it seems to inhabit one age, whilst injecting the residue of another, the obvious figure in the background is Jim O’Rourke ”“ both in his role as chamber-folk magus on records like Eureka, and also as the shadowy auteur behind Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost is Born. Gather, Form and Fly, whilst not being as epoch-evocative does seem to have similar ambitions.

Take a track like ‘Impressions of the Past’: it starts with what could be a blast of Kinksian whimsy, though the muted horns quickly relocate the track from Muswell Hill to the Appalachian Hills. Then come those O’Rourke strings which quickly bend and mutate and herald a slide into a dirge lead by what sounds like a prepared piano. The track returns to itself via a simple (unprepared) piano line and a simple bank of vocal harmonies. It could be a Sufjan mini-epic. ‘Darkest Hour’ is similarly based around disparate elements ”“ field recordings of rain (bathwater?) and bird song, a runaway tabla; harmonies finally kick in at around the two minute mark and are a shock and mutate into a round underpinned by some electronic skronk that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Aphex Twin record. I appreciate these might sound like a fucking mess, and in some respects they are, but the band carry it off with enough grace that it keeps you listening, entranced.

What this interference also serves to do is set aglow the simple gorgeous melodies of tracks like ‘Worried Mind’ and ‘The Longest Day’ (a bluegrass track, lit up by female guest vocalist Christy Smith who gives Gillian Welch a run for her money). The standout track for me though is the 7-minute penultimate song ‘Guns’. You’re dropped into the song and as such it has the feel of an eternal coda ”“ a yearning melody and lyric (‘all will ever be as one’) has them sounding so easy and relaxed it’s a slow lope into the tracks river-of-metal ending. It’s a hell of a statement and you wonder what else the band will be capable of in the future.

Problems? I guess the deconstructive urge does tend towards self-indulgence at times, and despite being 51 minutes it does feel overlong. I could do without ‘Columns’ - a galloping mess of cowbell (and I speak as a man who demands more cowbell in his music) and double bass that descends into a buzz of oscillator drones and feedback. Generally though, this is a bold and intriguing record. Go get.


Megafaun on Myspace

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