Jason Molina in Fragments, Memories, Ghosts, Poems, Songs
We don’t have a name for the kind of sound that takes up space and does nothing more- a tone without a key, a breath flattened and frozen, friction without an object to release itself onto. Listen to the song above, a Jason Molina track recorded on an Italian radio station in 2007. The sound is everywhere in this song. I might not have a name from it. Jason Molina has at least as dozen. He would call it the dark or the blues or he would call it ghosts, for a few. I think he got strength from putting those names onto that sound which seemed to stick to him more than most. I’ll get back to the ghosts, I promise.
One of the most touching collections of music I was ever given was given to me by Carissa Hamman of Cincinnati, Ohio in my freshman year of college. It was a CD-R, in a delicately folded and meticulously scotch-taped paper enveloped. the cover was a pressed-pen drawing of a flower of a mostly blackened flower, a few bits of pink slighting out near the top. The track listing was written in the kind of script that looks like a series of precisely placed fallen eyelashes. Though, I will say, I read “Hot Black Silk” as “Not Black Silk” until I had to look up the title, just now. Before I even listen to the mix, a collection of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Company music, I could tell that this was the kind of music you put this much effort into presenting to someone. Sad songs flatlined into those two track-dividing seconds of silence only to be brushed off and hung up as scarecrows with the start of the next, slightly-less-sad take. I was terribly sad when I thought I lost that CD in a move, and very relieved when I found it some months later.
That wasn’t the only relationship that had some form of a start involving Songs: Ohia. The first time I drove my current girlfriend home, she got giddy when she found Songs: Ohia on my iPod, and then indignant, berating me for not having more Songs: Ohia albums (still don’t have The Lioness, probably to my own fault). We spent the entire car ride talking about Molina, his recent struggles, the different circumstances under which we’d seen him live, the connection, the deep, unyielding connection we had with certain songs of his. The funny thing about Molina’s songs and the music that accompanies him is that it isn’t meant for or built on such connections. Songs often contain only enough space for Molina, an eerie light source, some of that ghost sound or blues sound. With rare exceptions like “Being in Love” and “Captain Badass,” Molina songs exist without
Next, US-27, driving out of Cincinnati, the sky a cup of coffee
spilling perpetually. Then, road-side, We saw a stage.
A stiff-lapelled MC waved. We tucked, rolled into slush-felling dark.
He told clean jokes, then, with a gloved hand,
summoned a clean cut group of executioners. Someone clawed at the walls
You squeezed my coat sleeve as bullets took flight.
You can’t think of Jason Molina as a perfectionist, because it seems he didn’t think perfection was a reasonable goal. Songs titles like “Almost Was Good Enough” suggest as much. It’s why images (Ghosts, Highways, Bells, Moons, The Blues, Chicago) appear again and again- Molina wasn’t expecting things to work out perfect. He just wanted to say it the best way he could, and so he was willing to try, again and again, with the same words, the same themes. It’s the beautiful coda of Farewell Transmission- “Real truth about it is, no one gets it right.Real truth about it is, we’re all supposed to try.” In addition to stitching such ongoing themes themes throughout his songs, he perpetually reworked songs he had already recorded. Like the best poets, but unlike most songwriters, you get the idea with Molina the song wasn’t finished just because it had been recorded.
The voice your are now hearing is marrow.
living cement. Also, casing–the composure
that accompanies the ghost story it tells. The casing
is highways jointing out from teratomic lands like Iowa
and Indianapolis. Miles of exits with no services. The voice
you are not hearing prefers air travel,
not being a wet blanket, being heard.
The voice you are now hearing
is swaddled. Has been since birth
in soaked sheets
until it stopped shaking.
But that’s wrong. Jason Molina sucked at stage banter, came off cagey. I heard from friends around Bloomington that he was a closed book much more than he was open. At least in these songs, that wasn’t him. Listen to what he does with Scout Nibblet and Will Johnson here. He lets them in. All the way.
Note: Discerning readers will notice I skipped “Part 2” of my best of the year extravaganza. The reason for this is because I wanted to get my best of done in time to submit it to the Hype Machine list feature. The reason I do this site is because I love the music I’m writing about, and if, by submitting my list, I happened to allow a few more people to listen to and perhaps purchase the music that moved me this year, that’d just be swell.
Verbatim from last year: Everyone can do year end blurbs. Blurbs are, frankly, dime a dozen, and quite honestly, who needs ‘em- you can listen to the songs and get all the stuff. Here’s some writing about some music that I loved this year.
It’s hard to add an exclamation point to “malaise,” but I’m starting to think there’s little Thao Nguyen and her band The Get Down Stay Down can’t add her clanky rhythms and smokey voice (a vertiable exclamation point) to. While her first album tackled the blunt stuff: heartbreak, joy, childhood, Know Better Learn Faster is a little more complex. Its topics are listed, on an old boring magnet on your half broken fridge: having responsibilities, slowly growing out of love, the terrible aftertaste and terrible view from the top of a one night stand. The music, likewise, isn’t sugar coated. It satisfies like bakers chocolate- the longer it sits and the more time you spend the sweeter it gets. This is the group’s second album in 2 years and their second time appearing on my best of list. I can see no reason that either of these things should stop at any point soon.
“Know Better Learn Faster” and “But What of the Strangers” are from Thao and the Get Down Stay Down’s album Know Better Learn Faster.
I don’t care about what the cool kids did or did not say in this case. My real question: why weren’t Florence and the Machine all over Z100 this year? In a year when pop got weird, I’m shocked there wasn’t room at our country’s microphone for Florence Welch, whose voice is a drink, not even a cheap drink or a first drink, thrown across the room in one of those slow motion Matrix sequences, and the Machine, who back Miss Welch with all the abandon of a careening Kia with occupied baby seat in the back. This is passion somehow being wrapped up by composure. This album is built upon a synthetic approximation of a beating heart. (I’m writing about the EP because I don’t have the full length. I can only assume it’s as good as this EP.)
“Dog Days are Over” and “You’ve Got The Love” are from Florence and the Machine’s EP A Lot of Love, A Lot of Blood.
Consider Kurt Vonnegut and Berkley Breathed. Two people who saw the world and thought to hold up a mirror to it. We were shocked and thought, “they must be using one of those carnival fun house mirrors” and laughed and said “Oh, I read there stuff when i was in high school.” Years of being trivialized or ignored took their tolls on the beautifully surreal visions of these two men, causing both to become cranky, topical, and, worst of all, irrelevant. Consider Robyn Hitchcock, whose been holding up that very same mirror for years, and has never faltered, watered down or compromised. He’s asked us in once again for tea to have a look at it. It would do us a lot of good to listen to him.
Scientists can (and, if there are any who read this site, will) prove me wrong about this one, but over the lifespan of our human lives, the mountains we see will not change. They will simply amass all the combined footwork that walks across their paths and look majestic for photos for calendars put up in office break rooms to remind employees on their worst days that, even if god’s not in the picture, there is something bigger, much bigger than us. And, because mountains will not change, there are plenty of people who feel they don’t need to visit a mountain twice. These people think that they’ve seen it once already, and there are roller coasters they haven’t been strapped into yet. But here’s the thing about unchanging beauty; if you give it a second or third visit, use it’s postcards as bookmarks and stare at a different part every time, new things will emerge A mountain is too big to give it all away at first, and you are too small to catalog everything at first. This is my argument: Let us revisit our mountains.
“OK. well, obviously there are mutes and people who disprove what I’m about to say, but in general, the voice is how we communicate things. The way we speak, the way vowels come out differently, it’s just as much a part of who we are as, I don’t know, our eyebrows or our temper. Sometimes our voices matter just as much as what they’re saying.”
“My opponent argues that there is truth in the voice; that despite not being able to speak a common language, speech binds us altogether. I won’t disagree with that, but I think it binds us all together in failure. There’s such a limit to what the voice can express, and I think my opponent inherently denies the perversion that occurs when we put thoughts into language. The amount of stuff that’s lost is a pretty big roadblock to any true understanding of what anyone’s talking about ever.”
“Well, I think I pretty well understand what you’re saying when you say that, but I think that in itself proves my point. You said something, you used your voice, and I understood it.”
“I don’t think you got the half of it.”
“Philip, Philbert, come over hear. Your mother and I have been talking…Philbert, stop cleaning the window….I don’t care if the queen herself was looking at it, I’m trying to speak to you…Phillip, take your finger out of your ear…both of you, just sit down and listen. Now perhaps your mother and I bare some of the blame for the way you turned out; it probably wasn’t a great idea to name identical twins Philip and Philbert, and we probably should have realized it wasn’t a good idea to dress you two the same until you were seven, but god, to think you would turn out to be such polar opposites, we couldn’t have possible known that. Now tomorrow is your first day of high school, and you’re both enrolled in the same classes, so I wanted to give you the best advice iI could think of. Philbert, you’re three minutes older so you first.
Ok, put away the Purell. Now I appreciate how clean and organized you are, but you’ve. Well, son, some people would say you’re no fun. An example? Well, how long did you spend parting your hair today? Ok, well a lot of kids your age could have spent those 45 minutes playing guitar or playing catch with their old man…No, it looks very nice. I’m sure it is even. I’m not doubting you. I’m just saying, as much as you can, try to loosen up. Maybe you could take up the trumpet, or take up smoking, or think up a cool nickname for yourself like “the razzmaster.” It was just a suggestion.
Philip, my advice to you…are you wearing a potato sack? There are better places to put your lunch than…ok, just listen to me for a minute or two. Your mother are concerned that you’re having a bit too much fun. Remember when you rode the neighbor’s Saint Bernard to Dairy Queen last summer? Well, yes, no one is doubting that it could support your weight. The problem is the fleas. No, they’re not your friends. No, they’re not. Philip, my advice to you is to clean up a bit, maybe have just one or two shirts without lucky food stains on them.
I’m not saying both of you should lose who you are. That’s what makes you special. But if both of you, just a bit, tried to even out, find an in-between I think it might be interesting to see what might happen.”
Charlie Dreams of Colors
Sinning. Yellow drips its way
into someone’s bloodstream and makes them
rip up their child’s artwork and Yellow makes them
go into their child’s room and Yellow makes them
tell them their pictures are terrible, that they can’t draw life, still
or otherwise. Blue pushes a bottle off the shelf
into waiting hands, while red locks the door. Purple
cut the phone lines and closed the curtains. White
took out the sky and Black pinched up all the water.
Greens the one who has to explain everything to the passersby
Charlie looks at Green in horror and pain,
but Gray’s beat him to the punch,
stole all the words.
(a brief moment of levity: The shift in tone, style, production, in general the sheer amount of progress Scott Bondy made between last year’s American Hearts and this album knocks the blood out of my head. It took him a year to produce this. I have no concept of where he will go from here, but I’m excited to find out.)
I think I got it right the first time with this one. “Anni Rossi’s new album Rockwell teeters. It’s an egg teetering on the point of a sharpened pencil. It’s a word left teetering on our spit covered larynx at the end of the evening. It teeters. The interesting and arresting thing about her Viola playing is how often it sounds like she’s messing up, hiting wrong notes momentarily, and how well these “mistakes” blend into and increase the fragility and lighter-flame-thin tension that these songs posses. Her lyrics are unusual, in a good way, but she sings them as though they will break your heart.”
“Machine” and “Glaciers” are from Anni Rossi’s album Rockwell.
Sometimes you worry a little bit after the debut. A band or an artists releases an overwhelming, emotionally saturated album, and you think, “how can they top this?” The problem is exacerbated if there’s a back story tied to the initial album, a story of life that pointedly provoked the album you’re listening to. So maybe it makes sense that on his second album, Elvis Perkins retreats away from his spotlight, sharing the billing with his band In Dearland. That’s not to say Perkins’ urgent, precise voice and nonlinear, poetic lyrics aren’t still present on his album. It’s just to say he’s got bassist and a guitarist and, man, what a drummer, who’s sometimes just playing one of those big drums your marching band plays. Rather than having everything fall on a concept or a story or emotional barbells, Elvis Perkins’ second album, and the debut by Elvis Perkins in Dearland stands high as a basketfull of creative, intelligent, folk and rock songs. Some of these songs sit fall alseep on the back row of the bus, some of which run 10 blocks in wooden clogs to catch that very same bus, and, even then, when it won’t stop, they just grab hold to a piece of jutting metal on the door and go flying.
“Hey” and “1 2 3 Goodbye” are from Elvis Perkins in Dearland’s self titled album.
Hearing the first version of “Learned To Surf” made me feel like my life was a hit movie, a movie some critics would call saccharine, but which, those critics would acknowledge, was based on a true story. Hearing the second version of “Learned To Surf” made me feel 5 years old again- sing me a song and then I promise I’ll go to bed. I promise. Everything in between covers the space between those two things.
Want to know what’s infuriating to me? If The Reigning Sound’s last album hadn’t been the volcanic Too Much Guitar, this might have very well been my favorite album of the year. That album sweated and screamed and stuck its junk right in your face, and you liked it. Love and Curses, the band’s new album still rocks, it screams sometimes, but it doesn’t jump off the stage in a flying karate kick. But that’s the last time I’ll make that comparison, because Love and Curses is still my favorite rock and roll album from this year. Greg Cartwright and company are clearly having fun doing something they’re very good at, and the results sound confident, brash, lovelorn, and, at times, fucking loud. “Dangerous Game” forces the listener to play follow the melody for all minute thirty six of its length. “Break it” and “Debris” are wounded as much as they are taut. While the title of the album hint’s at its disposition and its conclusion, the groups loss and frustration and hindsight get all revved up in the music. Somehow this group manages to make resignation sound like proud defiance.
The worst thing about Neko Case up until Middle Cyclone was that the best of her songs were some of the best, deepest, most stirring songs. Period, no qualifier needed after the word “songs.” “Star Witness,” five minutes and 17 seconds long from her last album, has inspired well thought out academic papers, for example, and could inspire full length films, paintings, novels, or bloodshot drives towards a compas point. She wrote some of the finest songs, but couldn’t write an album of them. The best thing about Middle Cyclone is that she actually did it with no qualifiers, ifs, ands or buts. Thematically unified, Middle Cyclone is the most consistent, accessible, fierce, evocative album Case has created so far in her career. This album feels gigantic. Case’s voice has never sounded better, and her songwriting has never been stronger. “It’s a dirty fallow feeling to be the dangling ceiling from when the roof came crashing down” Case sings on one song. “Can’t scrape together quite enough to ride the bus to the outskirts of the fact that I need love.” She sings on another. These are the lines of a wordsmith, and Case stretches her voice around them wholly. This is an epic, beautiful, sometimes terrifying, always engaging album. Just spectacular.
“Middle Cyclone” and “Red Tide” are from Neko Case’s album Middle Cyclone.
At the beginning of one of my favorite books, Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, there’s an introduction which describes a cranky, lonely old author who is looking for someone to talk to, and a carpenter who builds the writer a bed. As the carpenter builds, the writer tells him his thoughts on life. He believes that, at one point, there were truths in the world, the truth of beauty, the truth of honesty, the truth of forgiveness, but that people took up these truths like they were animals to be domesticated, and as people claimed these truths as their own, they became grotesques. Anderson remarks, of the writer, “it was the young thing inside him which saved him” from becoming a grotesque himself.
At the beginning of Comet Gain’s new album, Broken Records Prayers, they tell you, “We have torn ideals. Comet Gain have torn ideals.” That’s what they tell you on track one. I cannot think of one other rock band who would claim to have ideals, much less the beauty of realizing how torn those ideals must be. Not a single other band.
I’d say there’s a fourty percent chance that Catfish isn’t alive today.
Nearly a year ago to the day, I was on an Amtrak heading down to New Orleans to visit some friends and get away from the life-shaped straight jacket that I woke up in most every single day in Michigan. It was a wonderful, memoried trip, but New Year’s Eve sticks out and almost feels separate from the whole experience. The friends I was visiting and I walked from the bywater, (where they were renting a small house as they waited for other plans to ring the doorbell or arrive via airmail), to downtown where we watched whatever object it is that the people of New Orleans watch drop from a tall building. The crowd mulled and danced afterward, and two of my friends got handed a dimebag by a guy who called himself Catfish. We were drunk, all of us, and so following Catfish around New Orleans for hours to bars and liquor stores and through streets that grew increasingly less crowded as the hours mounted seemed good and it seemed right. At one point, when we must have been halfway across the city and halfway towards sobriety, Catfish said to us “I’ll take you to where I live,” which only seemed only half right and half good, but we went anyway. Ended up back at the big park right downtown, right by the Mississippi, where we had started. sitting there, now almost too exhausted to be angry or scared or happy, Catfish said at one point “I had a gun this morning. I was going to kill myself today, but then I met you guys.” Soon after that, we started walking home. The next day was quiet, we went to a dog park and ate once or twice, but mostly it was quiet.
I tell the story because Hurray for the Riff Raff are from New Orleans, I found out about them from some over-inked music zine they give out in coffee shops down there, but also because the wonder and sadness of the story is what the band specialize. The wonder of pure human connection and the sadness of the static that interrupts those connections are the songs on It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You, Hurray For the Riff Raff’s first albums. Oftentimes there’s overlap; “Baby Blue” starts off like a spool of wire unwinding in the dark, and builds to two people so close they can’t even see each other clearly, before it breaks apart again. “Amelia’s Song,” likewise is made of words celebratory and mournful “you’re not made of stone, you’re made of honey. and you can’t be consumed by my life.” The honesty in that letting go is heart-rending.
The songs tell stories, but the music makes those stories vivid, and I can’t think of an album that is better composed, played, produced, mixed, or mastered (i can never really tell you the difference between those last three) this year. Everything is where it should be here, sounding crisp but also casual. There are no flourishes because nothing on this album happens suddenly. Things ebb in and temper out like it’s the most natural thing in the world. If it wasn’t such a weighty album I’d say it sounds like it was recorded live on a porch in back of an engagement party.
I can’t think back to Catfish too much at this point or I go too deep in and want to buy a plane ticket back down to Nola and find him to make sure he never followed through with his new years eve plan. I hope that, at some point this year, he heard this album playing out a window or from an open car door or an overhead speaker somewhere. I think it might touch him, too.
“Fly Away” and “Bricks” are from Hurray For The Riff Raff’s album It Don’t Mean I Don’t Love You.
These concerts are from street fairs in Michigan and bookstores in New York City, porches overlooking downtown Detroit, and shanty-stages in Chicago. They’re from old firebrands playing what might have been their last tour, and bands who nearly imploded halfway through their set and broke up on the spot. They’re from earstraining quiet and earbusting noise.
Vic Chesnutt (featuring Guy Picotto, A Silver Mt Zion and Godspeed) (October 27th @ Music Hall Of Williamsburg)
Vic Chesnutt feels wise. The guy is a smart ass, lewd, and pessimistic, but the feeling he emanates is wisdom. So to say Chesnutt played the show he played to a half full crowd in Brooklyn like a baby might seem an insult to him. Quite the opposite; when someone has the lyrical brilliance and musical versatility of Chesnutt, the worst thing that could happen is that the lyrics are great, the songs are great, and the whole thing sounds glazed over. Chesnutt’s set that night tantrumed and bubbled and then got so quiet it seemed to be content whispering syllables to the ceiling. 20+ years into his career Chesnutt is still playing to extremes. Thank god for that.
X (June 17th @ Magic Stick, Detroit)
A day or two before this show, Exene Cervenka announced to the world that she had Multiple Sclerosis. This was X’s 30th anniversary tour; each member of the band is an essential element, and one of the four members announced she had a pretty extreme debillitating illness. And then, Cervenka came on stage and blew every fear and every expectation and every offered hand or look of sympathy away. She was clearly in pain for much of this show, but she barreled on, voice sounding just as good and just as wrecked as I’m sure it did in ’79. The other members of the band played deserve credit too. Billy Zoom balanced super sonic guitar playing with flirting with the rockabilly girls who kept taking his picture. John Doe’s sung steadily and playing the shit out of the same bass he’s used since Adult Books, and DJ Bonebreak still stands as one of my favorite drummers ever. Still, this was Exene’s night. This was so much more than soldering on; this was furiously ricocheting off the stage lights.
Chris Bathgate/ Lightning Love/Frontier Ruckus (October 22nd @ Spike Hill, Brooklyn)
I thought that seeing Chris Bathgate perform outside of the great state of Michigan would be akin to reading a Faulkner novel set in Connecticut. As I’ve said on this site before, the man is so connected to that place for me, and not being able to see him live once or so a month in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti or Detroit is one of the things I miss most about not living in Michigan any more. When Bathgate came to Brooklyn to play a CMJ set, he did something different than the myriad of times I had seen him in Michigan, he played almost entirely new material, with nothing from his 2007 album A Cork Tale Wake or his ’08 EP Wait, Skeleton. The new songs, play with a bagillion part band, were loud and confident, like finally making it through the winter straightjacket that Bathgate’s last two albums so beautifully described. Perhaps because free of all the expectations and weight of a hometown show, Bathgate tried something new. Nostalgia bloomed fresh with every new song.
Nomo (June 16th @ Top of the Park, Ann Arbor)
Even though Nomo no longer call Ann Arbor home, their concert opening up the wonderful Top Of The Park series of free summer events in the city has become a yearly tradition. A huge energetic tournout mirrored the energy pouring off the state. Whether they played this well because it feels like a homecoming show for the band, or whether it was the confidence that comes from releasing a great new album, the show was brassy, beat heavy, and one of the biggest dance parties i went to this year. The band’s set would have blown the ceiling off any venue that could have held them.
Frightened Rabbit (January 25th @ Blind Pig, Ann Arbor)
This show thawed me when I was neck-deep in Michigan winter. Sometimes it’s nice to see a young passionate band play no-nonsense rock songs to a sweaty beer-y packed crowd. This was one of those.
Mice Parade (May 3rd @ Pike Room, Pontiac)
There were so many reasons this show could have been terrible. Mice Parade played with a mediocre local band supporting them. The room was packed for the openers, and empty by the time Mice Parade started. This would have been demoralizing enough, but the band was also missing their drummer. A perfect recipe for a disastrous show, a good excuse to half ass it and blame it on mitigating circumstances. But from the moment they came on, the band the band were all smiles, almost treating the evening like a joke they were in on. When an audience member shouted “get behind the drum kit” to lead singer Adam Pierce, he obliged. When the band announced they were going to play one more song and I had really gone there to hear them play “The Last Ten Homes,” and so I shouted out “play ‘The Last Ten Homes,'” of course they did. I’ve said it before, post rock, music this delicate, intelligent, and technically brilliant, is not supposed to be fun. I’m happy to report that Mice Parade continue to buck that trend.
Greg Cartwright (June 28th @ Alley Deck, Detroit)
Talk about the perfect hangover cure. The Alley Deck, the porch on the side of the Magic stick was transformed into an outdoor venue, bar and sightseeing booth sundays this summer. The audience for Cartwright’s rare solo appearence felt as light as the breeze, slowly roasting in the Michigan summer. And, despite warning that his voice was worn out from the previous night’s Oblivians reunion show, Cartwright sounded great, playing two varied sets like he was sitting on a porch in the company of close friends. Which, I suppose, he was.
Magnolia Electric Company/Sally Timms/Elephant Micah (July 12th @ The Hideout, Chicago)
Jason Molina’s not a talker. He probably spoke 10 words over the course of Magnolia Electric Company’s set at the hideout. I don’t think this is due to stage fright, as much as a firm desire to let the music speak for itself. Which is bullshit, if you ask me. Molina has a strong, recognizable voice and personality. His lyrical conceits are original this side of 1940s Oklahoma or Nashville, and to say you’re just a vessel for the music or something seems pretty much like nonsense to me. But maybe it wasn’t that, it was that he didn’t want to take away from what, at this point has become a very solid and very democratic band. Guitar player Jason Groth and drummer Mark Rice both fleshed out every song and were able to make their presences known when the occasion called for it. Upon second thought, maybe Molina’s lack of stage banter was appropriate and better fitted the band than a thousand bad jokes and boring stories would have.
Elvis Perkins (September 2nd @ Housingworks, New York)
Roadside Graves/Parson Redheads (October 10th @ Lit Lounge, New York)
Two young bands start sprinting from the same starting line labeled “country.” The Parson Red Heads head off towards the driving kind, with voices spreading out like lane dividers and melodies blurring together like nighttime scenery. The Roadside Graves head towards the kitchen and start throwing things in a pot, then start throwing things on the floor just to hear the sounds they’ll make. Their common ground came in their half cocky excitement. Both bands played like they had something to prove to the tiny space they were filling that night. Both bands proved it.
Yo La Tengo (September 25th @ Roseland, New York)
It would be easy for a band like Yo La Tengo to get too humble, to get too used to playing a few nights at Maxwell’s and the occasional big free summer show. Sometimes both to reassure and to push themselves, they’ve got to try something big. Seeing Yo La Tengo at Roseland, probably one of the biggest non-free concerts they’ve ever played in New York, felt validating and important. Through a magical light show, a shockingly long and energetic set, and a touching romantic skeletal encore (including one of my favorite of their songs, “The Whole of the Law”) they showed they were as good as every member of the sold out crowd showed them they were. Whether they were proving it to themselves, to the critics or to their fans doesn’t matter, what matters is how seamlessly and entirely they proved it.
How does stuff like this happen? It’s been months since the newest Magnolia Electric Company album came out, and somehow I wrote lukewarm things about at least a few other albums before even mentioning this one?
I think at this point, everyone’s got their favorite Magnolia Electric Company album (ok, every Magnolia Electric Company fan has their favorite), and before the release of Josephine, mine was the group’s second album, What Comes After The Blues. While their debut, the blistering live album Trials and Errors, was a more potent and forceful album, What Comes After The Blues felt ethereal. It was a worn down album, one which strove to answer the question of its title, but could only come up with dust and steel girders roasting in the sun and remnants. It’s a quiet album that captures the same kind of timeless skeletal beauty as Calexico. I didn’t dislike Fading Trails or the massive Soujourner box set, but they didn’t resonate the same way Blues did.
Just like Magnolia Electric Company was a radically different beast than Songs: Ohia, songwriter/singer Jason Molina’s prior group, each Magnolia Electric Company album has been a pretty radical shift from the one before it. And the group’s newest album, Josephine, is as immediate and pop focused as any Molina has put his name to. The songs hear emanate both warmth and immediacy; but even while these songs are straightforward and, dare I say, poppy, they still posses that ghostly nature that makes Molina such an intriguing songwriter and vocalist. I still love …Blues, and at 15 tracks, Josephine has a bit of fat that could’ve been trimmed, but I think got a new fav. Electric Co. album.
I just picture Molina, the whole group actually, as cowboys out of time and place, staring off towards silent soybean fields from the back window of a rusted econoline. It’s nice to get something so instantly gratifying that also has enough to it to warrant repeat listens. Here’s the scope of this album:
It’s video’s like this that make me go back and reevaluate albums I had dismissed: a teenage orchestra covering a song from Centro-Matic’s last album.
Tomorrow (well, post-sundown tomorrow) a bit of gushing about Yo La Tengo, post amazing Roseland concert.