Magnolia Electric Co. – Song For Willie
I recently finished reading Erin Osmon’s book Jason Molina: Riding With the Ghost. There’s a lot to recommend it: details such as Jason’s teenage bands having reassuringly teenage band names (Chronic Insanity anyone?), my hope fulfilled the book would look at the Midwest music scene (subject for Osmon’s next book maybe please?), and the excellent analysis of Jason’s music throughout.
Early Day Miners – Sans Revival
I’m looking forward to the paperback publication of Erin Osman’s Jason Molina: Riding With The Ghost. Not just because the book is about Molina, but because I’ve always thought there’s a book to be had in writing about the bands that sprung up in the Midwest during the late 90s and early zeros; bands like Songs: Ohia and Early Day Miners, who both released records on the Secretly Canadian label; and looking at the blurb to Osman’s book, she might have written it.
Jason Molina – Long Desert Train
The album Pyramid Electric Co. was released in the transitional period between Jason Molina retiring Songs: Ohia and establishing Magnolia Electric Co. as the main band for his songs. Played entirely by Jason on guitar and piano and recorded by Mike Mogis, Pyramid Electric Co. is a dark album, but never oppressively so as it finds space to reflect on that very darkness.
Magnolia Electric Co. – Hammer Down
Jason Molina died four years ago this week. I recently came across this news story from 2015 about a song he recorded with Alasdair Roberts, and Will and Paul Oldham. The four had gotten together at Paul Oldham’s farmhouse on 10 September 2001 to record some songs; waking up on the morning of the 11th they spent the day watching what was happening in New York. The song they recorded that evening, ‘September 11’, written by Jason, had now, the article went on to say, been posted on the website of the Secretly Canadian record label.
Songs: Ohia – ‘Darlin…’
Jason Molina died three years ago this week. He was 39 years old. The first record I bought of his was in the early 2000s, Songs: Ohia’s bleak but beautiful Ghost Tropic. From then on I bought everything he released, all the way up to 2009’s Josephine. And in those rare small gaps when he wasn’t touring or releasing a record I had his albums, split 7″s, EPs from the late 90s to find. So this is maybe why, when his illness, then eventual death, signalled an end I was taken by surprise at the depth of loss I felt. I suppose it speaks to that certain mystery music holds over the listener that the death of human being, ostensibly a stranger to me, could have had such an effect.
At the time of his death stories were told of him. Memories were recalled. I had my own. I met him once at All Tomorrows Parties festival. It was around the same time he had taken to wearing a Stetson hat onstage (he didn’t mean it ironically you sensed), so in my story I have him wearing it. I complimented him on the gig he had just played. Asked him where he was off to next. I meant tour wise. He pointed in the opposite direction to where I had just walked from. I let the confusion stand.
But the stories people told were mainly about his music. Molina was a talented songwriter. And this was evident in the many different musicians, working in quite different fields and genres, who wrote about how much his music had come to matter to them. His sometimes simple songs (songs such as ‘Darling…’), while hermetically sealed within each album by his recurring use of images and tropes, paradoxically connected to a wider sphere.
Molina achieves this connection on ‘Darling…’ by using the lyrics to the opening of Al Green’s ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’. Set to a different time, an austere instrumentation, Molina is able to negotiate through Al Green so the sentiment becomes part of the Songs: Ohia aesthetic. An aesthetic Jason forged carefully until he retired the group in 2003, and began again with Magnolia Electric Co. And that’s probably part of the loss identified there: even though the many recordings can be gone back to, it’s now always with the knowledge he will never begin something again.