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The Daily Tar Heel

Music Review: Megafaun

It’s easy to meld a band’s image with its music. For Megafaun, it’s almost effortless — ask what the trio sounds like and you might hear “bearded.” Ask what it looks like and someone might respond with some variation of the word “folk.”

So entwined is the sight of Brad Cook’s armful of tattoos with the jubilant sound of Heretofore’s “Carolina Days” that it’s nearly impossible to tell where the line between “freaks” and “folk” really lies, or if there’s any line at all.

But for the purposes of appreciating the band’s new self-titled album: Forget what you know. Rather: Forget what you think you know.

Gone are the boundless, long-form free jazz freakouts. Gone is the group-sing nature of songs like Gather, Form & Fly’s “The Fade.” And gone are all — but one of each, at least — of the beards and banjos.

On Megafaun, it’s initially difficult to reconcile the known with the brand spanking new. There’s still a familiar sense of drama, but this time it’s more subdued, and where past albums have hollered out into the void, this one invites you inside.

Although the brash, tribal bass drum and wailing guitars on “These Words” are far from introspective, that still seems like the best word to encapsulate the record as a whole.

Aside from a few brief reminders of the band’s endearing brand of musical psychosis, everything is scaled back, a quieter exploration of universal themes that have always been an essential part of the band’s music.

While it can’t be labeled unrelatable, part of what makes the album so hard to digest — aside from its stylistic departure from what you’ve heard before — is its sheer length.

If you include the bizarre hidden track, there are 15 sprawling songs, with “Get Right” clocking in at 8:32.

Most of the songs are polished, and a few are short in their storytelling, but all of them are like smoke signals — beautiful, wispy, ultimately hard and rewarding to decode.

“Kill the Horns” sounds like the Megafaun you might’ve heard before, but its open-faced dealings with death and its slow, whining accordions differentiate it from past records.

It jumps right into the melody — no intro, no distracting noise, just the classic dance of piano keys and guitar strings, and it’s heartbreakingly gorgeous.

“Sorry for the way you died,” Brad Cook sings in the opening measures, and it transmits like an entry in a diary. These are personal songs, meaningful ones, and even if they don’t strike as hard as their predecessors, they carry just as much heft.

The plain packaging might deceive you, but don’t mistake these songs (especially “Kill the Horns”) for something boring or sterile. Underneath it all, there’s the same current of experimentation and electricity that drew so many fans to the band in the first place.

It doesn’t inspire the same euphoria that the group’s three previous albums might have, but there’s something graceful about Megafaun that’s likely to unfold through numerous listens.

If its past records are any indication, there’s something to be said for the band’s mastery of layered, intricate and nostalgic sounds, sounds whose nuances tend to surprise you when you least expect it.

So check your predisposed notions at the door. This is a record that needs time to settle, to steep in your brain for just a while until its beauty takes hold and you forget what you were expecting in the first place.

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