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Megafaun: Megafaun

B+

Megafaun

Album: Megafaun
Label: Hometapes

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After releasing two albums of exploratory, innovative space-folk, Megafaun makes a radical move toward conventionality on its self-titled third record. Instead of meandering through the wilds of shape-shifting sonic experimentation and genre cross-pollination, the North Carolina trio has made a stunningly straightforward, Grateful Dead-inspired Southern-rock record. Well, straightforward for this band, anyway—Megafaun still includes the jazzy curveball “Isadora,” which sounds like sprightly Christmas music that’s been given an Apostrophe-era Frank Zappa makeover. But where previous Megafaun albums felt like adventurous journeys, Megafaun is about the destination, putting a greater emphasis on songwriting and clearly defined sentiments than ever before.

Megafaun showed it was moving in a more traditional direction on last year’s muscular Heretofore EP. Fortunately, the “songs first” approach of Megafaun coincides with the band members’ maturation as writers. The piano is a prominent instrument throughout, anchoring the beatific ballad “Hope You Know” and the uplifting country gospel of “You Are The Light.” As for the guitars, they’re no longer altered to sound alien or ethereal: They’re comforting and familiar, like a stack of old vinyl records. The ghost of Jerry Garcia drifts through the snaky opening riff of “Real Slow,” while the stomping “Resurrection” moves with the force of My Morning Jacket.

Megafaun’s accessibility sometimes comes at the expense of the band’s personality, particularly when some of the mushier ballads in the album’s second half hew a little too close to the standard indie-folk template. But in its own way, Megafaun is as distinctive as its predecessors, showing a prettier, more approachable side to a band that appears to be constantly evolving.