Megafaun’s first two albums, 2007’s Bury the Square and 2009’s Gather, Form & Fly, cemented the North Carolina trio as purveyors of lackadaisical porch-front Americana with a sound steeped in Appalachian folk, pure country, and the blues. Yet even as they explored traditional verse-chorus-verse songcraft though, they also displayed a penchant for experimentation and improvisation, as evidenced by songs like the stream of consciousness journey, “Impressions of the Past.” A lazier band might have coasted on the acclaim that Gather garnered, but Megafaun hasn’t slowed a bit, canvassing the world on a grueling regimen of touring. Heretofore is the product of whirlwind recording sessions, but it’s an accomplished set of a caliber that belies its frenzied birth.
It is, certainly, a creative explosion of a record. The hazy, slow-burning build of the opener and title track is the closest the band has ever gotten to outright rock music. Even so, “Heretofore” is shot through with spacey electronic blips, squeals and bits of found sound. The stomping “Carolina Days” is a more compact and tuneful affair, chugging along and stopping only for a lightning-quick guitar solo before thundering on home. “Eagle” is a whimsical folk-rock number reminiscent of Randy Newman that touts a healthy freeform breakdown for a midsection. “Comprovisation for Connor Pass” is a labyrinthine odyssey of partly composed, partly improvised madness. “Comprovisation” fades in and out of focus, wobbling between sedate folk and borderline free jazz, as strings ebb and flow over the mix. “Comprovisation” is far and away Megafaun’s strangest moment on record, but they’ve pulled it off with a panache well beyond their years.
It’s hard to tell what’s next for Megafaun, but this much is certain: Three albums in, and their disparate musical interests have finally gelled into a sound. They not only had the guts to dream up this bizarre collision of the classic and the avant garde, but they also have the chops to make it work. Heretofore lurches well beyond the confines of the breathtaking rustic songcraft they’re known for, but every experiment is drenched in gorgeous melodies and inventive instrumentation. In short, it’s Megafaun’s most effortless, assured work to date. Much like Wilco at the turn of the century, Megafaun is turning American roots music on its head. This band is one to watch.