[30 January 2012]
It is hard to say what cataclysmic events will surround the end of the world in 2012. Regardless of the mayhem that many expect to transpire, Noah and the Megafauna come well prepared to host the last dance as the ship goes down. Just as the band played on while the Titanic went under, these chaps are up to their necks in waters of sound designed to wake, and then comfort, those sleeping below deck. “We are we are alive / And it’s such a gift to be/around for the climax of the show,” sings Noah Lit on the track “Gusano Coco”.
Thank goodness that this L.A.-based band has picked such an interesting and driving musical pallet to accompany the havoc. The music of Noah and the Megafauna can be loosely categorized as part of the old world musical revival heard as of late within various indie circles. Obvious comparisons to Django Reinhardt will be made, but their musical ethos is also reminiscent of bands like the Dustbowl Revival, Beirut, or Devotchka. The three brothers that comprise the core of the band are assisted by other talented musicians, including guitar virtuoso Gonzalo Bergara. Their sound is stamped with jazz influences that blend into folk flamenco fusion, usually sounded in a minor key. Familiar rock melodies are accompanied by gypsy guitars, passionate vocal phrasing, horns, and a swinging rhythm section. As artists, Noah and his crew know what they are doing and seem comfortable attempting such a brave fusion. Anthems for a Stateless Nation is a concept album that succeeds at communicating the displacement felt underneath the cool cynicism of the Occupy generation. Instead of being angry at the situation, Noah and the Megafauna prefer to accept their condition and live comfortably in the face of impending doom. The scope of the narrative is of Biblical proportions, both literally and figuratively.
Noah and the Megafauna use the drive and energy of both old and new musical languages to comment on a present that appears no different than the past. Simple guitar riff-age and melodies ring with a familiarity the keeps Anthems for a Stateless Nation accessible to the casual indie rock fan. Pleasant surprises abound on tracks like “On and On” and “Gusano Coco”. Both of these possess an indie spirit that converges within a blend of atypical instrumentation. The deceptively simple guitar riff-age of tunes like “Gusano Coco” transform them into something compelling through the use of nylon string guitars, screeching fiddle lines, and layering of horns.
In addition to the old world influence, a clear Radiohead influence adds a longing modern element to a few of the other tunes. The second track “Au Revoir Shoshanna (We Shall Meet Again)” is the kind of lonely dirge that would make a fine Thom Yorke tune. The tracks “R Futuristique” and “Moan All Night” also demonstrate the shadows of a Radiohead influence. And the chorus from the swinging opening track, “We Knew We Had It Coming” sounds uncannily like a certain Muse song. Some of the influences may be clear, but the arrangements and instrumentation keep Noah and the Megafauna far from being labelled unoriginal. Vaguely familiar melodies develop wonderfully via the acoustics of the old world that are used to express the present. This band neglects the temptation to stray into unnecessary complexity and into the extended jams to which these kinds of groups are easily prone. Instead, these players demonstrate their chops through the variety of styles they are able to project. From the New Orleans style breakdown of “When You’re Down” to the Americana tinge of “Liquid Modernity (You can never go home)”. All of this while managing to make a compelling statement about the human condition. Anthems for a Stateless Nation emphasizes the cataclysm and displacement that has come as a result of the Modern era. Songs like “Those Already Blessed” poke at the heart of unrest currently being expressed within the borders of the United States and beyond. The album ends with the hopeful strains of “We’ll Sail Above This”, a song that conjures the quiet spirit of Tom Waits and proves the band’s intent to constructively approach the sad state of our world.
This cabaret for the apocalypse still qualifies as fun cerebral pop and the kind of musical experiment that yields great results. It will surely find its way onto the soundtrack of Woody Allen’s next film.