Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co (Secretly Canadian)
Songs: Ohia has made a career out of channeling everything that was great about Neil Young into their music. Singer/songwriter Jason Molina crafts dark lyrics about regret, despair, and the struggles faced by small town Americans. This is the music you put on during long road trips through Indiana and Ohio. Rolling down the 80/90 Turnpike the songs on Magnolia Electric Co will cause you to stare with a little more sentiment at the pastures and farm homes. It is a story of losing love in an empty town, and realizing it can get even lonelier. The lifestyle once viewed as sad and distant from the perspective of an apartment soaking up the Chicago skyline suddenly becomes beautiful and genuine.
Magnolia Electric Co starts off with a rocker that ranks with the best anything Songs: Ohia have done to date. “Farewell Transmission” has Molina singing about the limitations and frustrations of small town America. When he gives you the lyrics “Now they’ll be working in the cold gray rock, in the hot mill steam… in the concrete/ In the sirens and the silences now all the great set up hearts – all at once start to beat” images of factory workers kissing their wives and newborns goodbye as they rise before dawn, creating a brotherhood that only they can understand comes to mind. Molina refuses to let up with “I’ve been riding with the Ghost.” Pouring his heart out to a lost love he confesses he’s running out of energy and ideas of how to change. He tells her he knows how to change, but can’t do it.
“Just Be Simple” slows down the pacing but becomes more introspective about lost love. Admitting “Everything you hated me for…Honey there was so much more/I just didn’t get busted.” Growing angry at his inadequacy he refuses to face his demons, and instead blames his plot in life. A lonely guitar chord at the end of the song represents a pair of slouched shoulders and an empty dinner table. He moves on in “Almost Was Good Enough” to a weak attempt at convincing himself it wasn’t meant to be, and segues into what could be considered the only flaw in the album
On the next two tracks Molina gives up the singing duties. “Old Black Hen” showcases Lawrence Peters and a deep country twang that becomes an acquired taste. On this track Molina sits down and delivers some of the most heart wrenching piano playing you’ll ever hear. Scout Niblett sings the only track that sounds out of place on this album. “Peoria Lunch Box Blues” succeeds in that the music is some of the darkest on Magnolia Electric Company, but the high pitched Niblett is so contradictory in delivery from that of Molina and Peters that the gray skies mood breaks and you become more annoyed than reflective.
All is forgiven with “John Henry Split My Heart.” The song starts off with a thundering guitar, slows for a moment to just a piano, and then becomes a whirlwind of screeching guitar and hard hitting piano and drumming. The 8-minute album closer “Hold On Magnolia” represents Songs: Ohia at their best. A clinic on proclaiming fault and exorcising demons it delivers the telling line of “You might be holding the last light I see/Before the dark gets a hold of me.”
Small town America is captured on Magnolia Electric Co. It can’t be labeled as rock, country, or blues. Just beautiful. “The real truth about it is no one gets it right.” If Molina ever does get it right, watch for traffic jams on the Turnpike.
Download “Farewell Transmission” via Secretly Canadian. There are tons of other Songs: Ohia mp3s available via Epitonic.
4 thoughts on “Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co”
This album is miles ahead of anything Songs:Ohia has done in the past. If you thought their old stuff was rather boring, give this a chance. Molina’s taken his brilliant, depressing songwriting and fused with the best country rock out there. One of the best albums of the year.
I agree that this is one of the best of the year, but I thoroughly disagree with the Scout Niblett opinions. To me her voice breaks my heart and fits into the album perfectly. It’s the other Lawrence Peters song that sticks out like a sore thumb. So much, that I’ve actually re-made a copy for myself leaving that track out.
This is the first I have heard of Josh Molina’s work and I can’t believe I overlooked a talent like this. The opening track raised the hair on the back of my neck and the chills kept coming for 40 minutes. Fascinating, dark, complex, deceptively conventional in its arrangements and completely individual in its mood. Josh’s finger is on the racing pulse of the trapped, the failed and the refugee in all of us, finally run to ground. It’s bleak but it’s us, and his empathy makes it hurt a little less.
i liken jason molina’s recent efforts to when bob dylan went electric. we are only just beginning to hear about this guy (although he’s been around for ages)and with the coke dares behind him i wouldn’t advise anyone to stand in the middle of the road. Pure brutal talent.