Megafaun initially stumbled through the gnarled thickets of the bearded troubadour circuit when they were identified as the majority of DeYarmond Edison. That seldom heard—but much lauded—rock outfit eventually gave the gift that is Justin Vernon (known to you, and to Grey's Anatomy fans, as Bon Iver). Vernon's former bandmates (longtime friends, they moved from the Midwest to Megafaun's present North Carolina stomping ground years back) were dragged into the light as pop enthusiasts tried to piece together Vernon's past. Yet while he was secluded in a hunting cabin writing the best whispered break-up jams this side of Either/Or, Megafaun was hard at work leaving an equally impressive mark on the folk music landscape.
Any band of Avett Brothers can prop themselves atop the Americana heap and be dubbed its glorious saviors, but the music of Megafaun contorts an endless array of traditional musical forms—the aforementioned Americana, dustbowl country, bluegrass, indie pop experimentalism—into one seamless entity of limitless potential. Gather, Form & Fly, their latest for the local Hometapes label, is a magnificent contribution to the outsider folk canon. Composed of Joe Westerlund and brothers Phil and Brad Cook, Megafaun work collectively to create pristine moments of traditional folk harmonies buoyed by the deep tapestry of dusty Appalachian front porch finger-picking.
"Each of us has our own approach to listening, writing, and arranging," says Phil Cook. "We try to give each other space to grow, while simultaneously working hard to agree on the overall arrangement of the statement. Naturally, there are times when an argument is in order, but we've known each other for basically our whole lives and have gladly chosen to spend a majority of our time together."
Megafaun's unique flexibility in reinterpreting a historic genre and capturing it all on tape is evident on tracks like the Teenage Fanclub harmonies of "Guns," the instrumental dirge of the title track, and the compelling "Darkest Hour." Opening with nearly two minutes of bird chirps, hazy drum circle percussion, and a downpour of water, "Darkest Hour" finally begins when the trio's a cappella voices appear, only to fade into an Animal Collective-esque mass of droning noise and miscellaneous sounds. Yet before the song drifts from your memory entirely—it initially gives the impression of being easily the album's most disposable track—it suddenly evolves into a bombastic shanty sing-along, an unforgettable moment haphazardly crammed into the final 40 seconds of music.
Never resting their laurels within the comfort and predictability of the folk genre, Gather, Form & Fly was assembled in a very unorthodox manner. This included recording sessions in nearly every form of domicile known to man—including the serenity of an empty yoga studio—and a trip to a local college campus for an alleged breaking-and-entering reconnaissance mission to record on a properly tuned piano.
"We were definitely discreet about it," explains Phil Cook. "Three large unkempt bearded men walking into a prestigious college with arms full of recording equipment would raise some obvious red flags to just about anyone, I'd think. We used a friend's card to swipe in, found a quiet classroom in the basement of the music building, and hung coats over the window. We worked in the dark."