he became Bon Iver, folk singer Justin Vernon started a band
called DeYarmond Edison in Eau Claire, Wis., with brothers
Brad and Phil Cook and drummer Joe Westerlund. When, in 2007,
Brooklyn freak-folk troubadours Akron/Family took their bombastic
statement Love Is Simple on the road, they made their
quartet a septet with the addition of Megafaun, a trio Vernon’s
backing band started after moving to North Carolina. In September,
the group will join forces with avant big band Fight the Big
Bull for a recording project commissioned by Duke University.
Because of the group’s long history of collaboration, it can
be easy to miss what Megafaun have accomplished on their own
terms—like, say, last year’s Gather, Form & Fly,
which pulled an 8.1 on Pitchfork and four stars from Rolling
the band had scraped most of the “freak” off of their banjo-driven
folk for Gather . . . it was a surprise to watch them
open their Friday-night set with some swelling electric psych-folk,
recalling Neil Young as much as Akron/Family. As the show
progressed, it became clear why Megafaun have become such
in-demand sidemen—the band’s range, versatility and musicianship
rival anything in the greater Fleet Foxes/Vetiver folk-sphere.
The Cook brothers casually swapped electric and acoustic guitars,
banjo, bass and wisecracks, while Westerlund defied almost
every drummer stereotype by singing crisp harmonies, taking
lead vocals, and commanding a full table of electronic effects.
moved through older tunes, as well as stuff off of their new
“mini-album” Heretofore, two bands seemed to emerge.
Electric, the group relied on gentle drones, patient post-rock
buildups, and song structures that seemed to dissolve verses
in and out of instrumental passages, not unlike the tape experiments
on the Grateful Dead’s Aoxomoxoa.
however, is the way this band ought to be known. Old-time
picker “The Fade” and “Kaufman’s Ballad” exhibited the kind
of natural three-part harmonies and sing-along hooks that
caught critical attention last year, and they might have outdone
themselves with their new single “Volunteers,” which arrived
late in the set.
hard not to use Vernon as a reference in describing the humble
charm of Megafaun’s acoustic material, but more than a Bon
Iver spinoff, and with versatility that plenty of other acts
are drawing on, the band seem primed to finally assert themselves.