Thursday, August 20, 2009

Megafaun Box Score

I decided to take a blind stab at what's become Charlie T's trademark here: the album box score review. It took me forever and I still have a lot of kinks to iron out as much in the layout as the approach, but it was very nearly enjoyable and I gained a new respect for Charlie T.

I picked Megafaun's Gather, Form, & Fly because I thought it'd be easy to bust out the box score for an album that I love. I was kind of right.

First of all, let me break Charlie T. Protocol and say, right up front, that I love this album because it is just that: AN ALBUM. In a world of disposable downloads, singles, mp3 giveaways, and all that, Megafaun makes a gorgeous, family of songs, coherent case for the album. It all sits together, segues, congeals so that listening to it becomes an experience. Sure, you can experience Megafaun on a song-by-song basis, but part of the strength of this record is listening to it as a whole. Soundscapes, noise interludes, found sounds and more populate the cracks of this beautiful collection of indie folk (if they must be filed) songs.

Second, I have to admit to having a certain inadequacy in this format. Some songs I love suffered because of the categories I chose. "Sleep in the bed that you made" is quite applicable. Some songs that aren't my favorite were bolstered favorably. "Darkest Hour" for instance isn't my favorite, but it heavies up on some of my criteria, so it came out beaming. But, worry not, I will calibrate this system and eventually have it running like a finely tuned 8-track.

Third, in honor of Megafaun's love of the Lakers, I've used purple & gold as well as highlighting some franchise favorite #s. I went so far as messing with "Bella Marie"'s score to get to James Worthy. I won't say if I raised or lowered, but it took some doing. I originally had some of the "highlight categories" symbolically scoring at a peak of 31 (a nod to Kurt Rambis, who, like Megafaun, was a bespectacled rambler in his heyday), but 31 was bumping the overall score into the thousands. Again, calibration will occur. So I lowered it to 21 (Michael Cooper, underrated defensive stopper and 3-point specialist in the 80s heyday). Good enough.

Fourth, the review:

A brief-ish explanation of my categories:

GOLD IN THE LYRICAL HILLS: The neo-backwoods sound of this album lends itself to some lyrical simplicity and straightforwardness. Like a great Gillian Welch song, you can mine these lyrical hills for some beautiful, simple truths and great lyrical moments.

PURE BEAUTY: the x-factor.

FOUND SOUNDS: Part avante garde art project, part Smithsonian Folkways field recording.

singalong/SHOUTALONG: Sing (or shout) alongability. Can you see/hear yourself singing/shouting along at a show? Can you resist? There are lots of moments where I wanna just jump in, even if I don't know the words just yet.

HARMONY (FRATERNAL, ETC.): Megafaun features two brothers, rawer than the Everlys or Louvins. The mix is undeniable, especially when you add a third non-blood part to bond it all.

PATIENCE: For all the shouting and singing and revival-style music, there are moments of pure patience. Of letting the cocoon simply do its thing, of stop motion photography, of just sitting til the light is just right.

FOLKSINESS: Looking for elements of traditional folkie songwriting and the prominent featuring of traditional folk instruments like banjo, field organ, etc.

cacoFAUNy: For all the reverence towards traditionalism, Megafaun also has a foot in the world of noise- beautiful, deliberate, unapologetic cacophony. Noise soundscapes create tension bridges at several key points in the journey of this album.

BRIAN WILSON/SUFJAN STEVENS ARRANGING: As much for the beachy (albeit on a different coast than Mr. Wilson) harmonies as for the inventive arrangements. Look for big thematic jumps, unorthodox percussion, and more.

BON IVER-ATION: You probably know, because no one (myself now included) will let you forget, that Megafaun made up the band Justin Vernon left to do Bon Iver. Can you spot the overlap? Gratefully, these boys don't have to worry about the shadow because their own thing stands on its own. (This coming from a massive Bon Iver fan.) I can't tell you how happy it made me that J. Vernon didn't do some big, shrinkwrap-sticker-featuring guest stint.

I love this record. It'll be top 10, maybe top 5, at the end of the year. GUARANTEED. "Gather, Form, & Fly" and "Longest Day" are two of my favorite songs of the year.


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