Review – Magnolia Electric Co. – “Josephine”

Magnolia Electric Co. "Josephine"

Rating: 61%

Josephine, the latest offering from Magnolia Electric Co., a band who – when all pistons are firing – are quite hard to criticize, sounds more like an album they might play in the background while writing a Magnolia Electric Co. album. Jason Molina has thrown away more songs than most of his contemporaries have recorded, and may quite possibly be one of the most prolific artists making music today. But is that enough to hold this album together?

At fourteen tracks nearly identical in tempo, structure, meaning and arrangement, Josephine simply goes on for too long. We roll slowly toward the fourth track (“Shenandoah”) and can’t help but wonder whether this will be the slow and painful death it appears it might be. Our fears are realized six songs later, when “Little Sad Eyes,” uses a brush kit and a forgettable melody one too many times; even the funky organ can’t save this one from the mundane. The reimagined, previously released track, “Shiloh,” rolls by, but by this point I fear the album has already slipped between our fingers like a plume of beach sand.

Magnolia Electric Co. "Josephine"

Long gone are the maps of old horizons. Gone are the ghosts they used to ride around with. There are no arrows to pierce our chestnut hearts. And the black rams? All but extinct. John Henry? Nowhere in sight. This whole place used to be dark, now it’s just a dimly lit elevator to purgatory, and the elevator’s just broken down. I want my slide guitar back, Molina. I want the guest vocals, the country swagger. I want the timeless, classic, tragically perfect songs to resurface from the dust and rubble. I want to sing in the shower to a new Magnolia Electric Co. song.

The album is not without its moments, I guess. The opening track, “O! Grace,” not only scores points for including the namesake of my daughter, it’s a promising opener to the album as well; a false prophecy as it turns out, but you get the feeling there is a band at work here, even if for a fleeting moment. “Rock of Ages,” the very next track, takes us to another place and time, harkening back to the sock hops and doo-wops of yesteryear. But at 2:43, one almost wonders if this band is intentionally trying to keep their charms up their sleeves. There is a pleasant roll and drive to “The Handing Down,” where an electric guitar is allowed to come out and play alongside Molina’s crooning, pleading warble. We can feel it, and it works. Why can’t we feel things more frequently?

Molina has mentioned the importance of recording this album. It is an implied album of healing, a chance to confront the unexpected death of original bassist Evan Farrell. I only wish that import transcended the personal meaning, so that we could all lament and heal and rejoice as one. Instead, the album seems more interested in apathy and self-depreciation than with paying triumphant tribute.

While describing a bit of the album’s inspiration, Molina also promised more output in the coming months, and as he is one of my favorite artists currently making music, I will only hope the future delivers on his band’s promise to create more great tunes. Until then, I have about 150 other Molina tracks to keep on repeat. Life isn’t all that uninspired after all.

Mp3. “O! Grace”
Mp3. “The Handing Down”
Mp3. “Rock of Ages”

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