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Jason Molina Dies at 39

“Being in love means you are completely broken, then put back together. The one piece that was yours is beating in your lover’s breast. She says the same thing about hers.”

– Jason Molina (1973-2013)

Dear Jason,

It is hard to put into words what your music has meant to me over the years. I discovered you in 2000, and shortly after listening to Ghost Tropic, I knew I had found a kindred, damaged soul from the cold shores of the Great Lakes. I have watched you play tiny venues in Chicago, exchanged head nods with you near the side exit, and listened in awe to your words on stage, in my car, in my bedroom, on my computer, in the shower, and in my head. Over and again.

“You’ll never hear me talk about one day getting out. Why put a new address on the same old loneliness?”

All I can say is that your final act on this Earth was a sad one. Your tragic end is only made more tragic by how few people have been exposed to your work. In a world where we objectify and make a mockery of artists like Amy Winehouse, it is easy to forget the dangers of substance abuse in our fast times.

But there is pain, and then there is pain. I do not pretend to know the struggles you had suffered in life, but in many ways, you channeled that grief directly through your music, and it resonates in that black pit which lives inside each of us. That electric blanket of misery so tempting to cozy up with and get lost beneath.

“I lived low enough that the moon wouldn’t waste its light on me. What’s left in this life that would do the same for me?”

You are this generation’s Neil Young, our Leonard Cohen; with the pen, with your voice, and through your achingly honest tenor guitar. For those who have not heard your music, I urge them to begin now. Your catalog is staggering. There is not a more prolific musician of quality writing who has performed over the past fifteen years.

Selfishly, I wish you were still here to bless us with more material, to break our hearts and put them back together again. Selflessly, I thank you for your contributions not only to music, but in offering a therapeutic ‘thing’ which can be listened to, taken to heart, learned from, and made better by.

“Arrow find my chestnut heart, a shadow for conjuring. Big black eyes to hide my secrets in, and the map of the old horizon.”

You will be missed, Jason Molina.

Sincerely,

A Fan

 

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”

Magnolia Electric Co. “Josephine”

Magnolia Electric Co. "Josephine"

My second favorite active songwriter in the known world is back with his band Magnolia Electric Co., set to release their fourth proper LP, Josephine, on July 21.

Here’s to hoping the new album shines as brightly as the Songs:Ohia final LP (Named Magnolia Electric Co.), and not as much like Trials & Errors, which was good not great.

This album is loosely dedicated to late band member, bassist, and key contributor Even Farrell, who died in a tragic apartment fire early in 2008. Molina is very proud of this album (“When I walked out of the studio, I knew that we had done something important.” -via Pitchfork). He feels it is so raw and naked he may never even listen to it.

We will do him that honor, with honor.

Mp3. “Farewell Transmission”
Mp3. “Just Be Simple”
Mp3. “It’s Made Me Cry”

Aderbat @ Piano’s NYC

Aderbat @ Piano's NYC

Last night I also had the privilege of seeing Aderbat play at Piano’s. I had the pleasure of drinks with some of the band after the show as well, thanks to their friend and associate Quang (who runs the Philly Deli site).

Aderbat played a short set on behalf of Asha for Education, an annual fundraiser held each year (at this venue I think, though don’t quote me on that). Four bands played, I watched two and a half (had to get to Efterklang after all). I have to say, I was impressed with what Aderbat pulled off in this less-than-small venue.

First of all I get to say I played the roadie, kind of. Well, I helped the keyboardist/drummer Craig Hendrix plug in some of his gear, and handed him his New Castle which was on the bar where I was sitting (apparently the high point of his evening, yuk yuk). Okay, onto the actual show, which was a good mix of brand new jams from a rumored summer release, alongside some of their older material. I think the set was about eight or nine songs in total. Just enough to whet your appetite, and leave you wanting more.

I’ve remarked in the past that lead singer Matt Taylor reminds me a bit of Jeremy Enigk and Josh Rouse. A strange combo, but if you listen to their respective music, I bet you’ll agree. I failed to mention Davey von Bohlen (The Promise Ring, Maritime), another vocal and sonic comparison I would say is valid. All that aside, Taylor has his own thing going on, and you notice it mostly in the songwriting. He is more immediate than Enigk, less sunny than Maritime, and a little less pastoral than Rouse (even before those random European-themed and generally crappy albums).

I can’t say enough about the drumming either. Todd Shied (who visually reminds me a bit of Jason Molina) played so incessantly that I worried he may at some point press the eject button on his chair and launch headlong into the crowd. You could feel the pent up energy channeling through his playing. Band newcomer Craig Hendrix (of Bon Savants quasi-fame) had a mini-kit of his own, along with his guitar and keyboard, and I particularly loved it when both he and Todd attacked the drums together.

For such a small stage, with such a mixed crowd (most were there to see Eighty East, an Indian rock/folk band), I must reiterate my delight at how good the set sounded. I’m also excited (as I was with Efterklang) about Aderbat’s new material. The songs sound very good, and Matt Taylor knows how to write “hits”.

Whether he really wants to or not, well we’ll see, and I’ll be fine either way.

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