This is the Summer of Megafaun. Their highly-anticipated second album, Gather, Form & Fly, is a monument to a band that hundreds have experienced on stages, under trees, in galleries, on ﬂoors, in headphones, and through radios-with-the-windows-down over the past three years. All the hints they’ve given us —- from songs Stereogum described as “mournful, slow-blooming banjo-and-white-noise-laced epics” to tours with The Rosebuds, Arnold Dreyblatt, and Akron/Family —- have culminated in a record that is an ode to death, love, musical history (from blues to musique-concréte), community, tradition, and experimentation. In all, it’s an ode to the listener.
Based in Durham, North Carolina, Megafaun was built by brothers Brad and Phil Cook and fellow Eau Claire, Wisconsin, native Joe Westerlund. The trio, plus longtime friend Justin Vernon (a.k.a. Bon Iver), made the cross country move together from WI to NC as the band DeYarmond Edison, ultimately splitting in 2006. Megafaun was born from those ashes and proceeded to record the remarkable album Bury the Square in 2007. They found a home on the road, collaborating with friends (they also joined Akron/Family and Dreyblatt as backing band) and developing an American musical language that is exquisitely translated by this year’s Gather, Form & Fly.
Brad, Phil, and Joe have been playing in bands together since 1997, after meeting at jazz camp in Wisconsin as teenagers. Life’s been an additive —- and adaptive —- process since then, bound by a rare and long-lasting commitment to a friendship that has always been set to music. With the end of DeYarmond Edison, a paradigm-shift was imminent. “Brad and I left our primary instruments behind and picked up secondary ones. We booked a seven day tour with out having written any songs,” said Phil, revealing the seeds of the improvisational spirit that both Megafaun and their fans now cherish and exalt. “We’ve become song writers collectively and individually through the birth of this band,” added Joe, “and Gather, Form & Fly marks a huge growth and change in our thinking about time and song form.”
Megafaun’s past three years ripple with the power of varied experience usually reserved for a lengthy decade: 250 shows over the past two years, supporting tours doing double-duty as backing band/collaborator with nearly every notable and diverse tourmate, and musical exploration spanning albums, generations of musical history, and fathoms of personal exploration. That self-survey daringly brings itself to the stage: “We thrive on situations that allow us to expose our nuances, our imperfections, and our spontaneity. We are not afraid of the imperfect set, but are afraid to limit ourselves to the non-spontaneous nature of recitation,” said Joe. That same spirit informed the album, which was self-recorded in three bedrooms, a kitchen, a yoga studio, a living room, a basement, and in a forbidden university piano studio that they had to break into to find an in-tune piano. In act of further embracing the new, Megafaun brought in Chris Stamey (the dBs, Holsapple-Stamey, et al) to help mix and guide Gather, Form & Fly, adding another dimension to the superb result.
Gather, Form & Fly rings out in its honesty to its makers and, thus, to its listeners —- both on wax and on stage. Phil, Brad, and Joe move with awareness of their every move, acknowledging in near-unison that this album share’s Bury the Square’s broad stylistic and emotional palettes —- group percussion, cacophony, drone, and folky narration will not disappoint —- but also reveals sounds and words that have been, somewhat silently, with them all along. There are the moments, present in every song, that will turn heads toward speakers, turn eyes toward the sky, and turn all notions of music on their sides, if just for one shimmering and genuine moment. And then, almost anywhere this Summer, you can go see them live —- and hear it all again, for the first time.
Out July 21 on 2xLP (with album download and side d etching) and CD