Sometimes we expect too much from our favorite musicians. Songs: Ohia holds a special place in my CD changer. However, Jason Molina has opted to drop the name Songs: Ohia and release a solo album. No big deal. Well, he also decided to drop the backing band that unleashed a 45-minute assault of blues guitar driven and lyrically brilliant rock on Magnolia Electric Co in 2003. No big deal. The formula of just Molina and a guitar or piano worked wonders in 2002 on Didn’t It Rain. Unfortunately, Pyramid Electric Co does not produce the same hair-rising, soul-searching moments of Didn’t It Rain. And you won’t find a “Farewell Transmission” or “Just Be Simple Again,” two of the more transcendent moments from Magnolia Electric Co.
Instead, Molina has released an underwhelming sleeper, that is bookended by two dark and undeniably haunting songs. “Pyramid Electric Co.” leads this off with a deep ringing guitar chord and Molina sternly pronouncing “A sickness sank into the little one’s heart / mama said son / that’s just the cold / that’s the emptiness / it’s being alone in the dark.” The song fades out with the same guitar chord being fiercely struck over and over again resonating through your chest. It’s reminding you someone is not coming back. Their bones are turning to ash. This song is one of the most powerful album openers your ears will have to reckon with. His voice can barely be heard in the background chanting “Dark repetition.”
Right when you’re convinced it’s the same old Molina you are dealt two songs that are promising, but ultimately failures. “Red Comet Dust” comes and goes without ever developing into the contemplative star gazer that lyrics such as “I want to be true / like the solid earth” would have you believe. Rather, a piano key is struck slowly sounding more like the tightening of a vice grip around your head than an actual song. Molina puts more heart into “Division St. Girl,” but is only going through the motions. He presents some of his best lyrics, and reading over them it’s clear Molina is a poet with few, if any peers. Not until he lets loose with “It’s like we’ve landed on the enemy site / the other guys all quit / they left us with nothing when they split” are you reminded of how phenomenal this guy can be. Had this much urgency been placed in the entire song the listener would be reaching for the tissue box.
Secretly Canadian released Pyramid on vinyl, and the second highlight came when I got to flip to side 2. Only because side 1 became a thing of the past and it wouldn’t be a lot of hard work to find track 1 again. Yet, Molina presents us with “Honey, Watch Your Ass.” A promising title with a decent enough chord that tires after the first couple of minutes and brings about the unfortunate trend of side 2: Molina whispering. He’s given up singing his lyrics at this point but forces you to press your ear to the speaker. None more so than on “Song of the Road” which dares ask “You think this is hard work? You’ve never seen hard work.” Well, shit, Jay-Dog, you’ve never seen me listening to this album.
I’m not even going to comment on “Spectral Alphabet.” Whispering, a silly little guitar chord, blah blah blah. But then there is “Long Desert Train.” Hold this song close to your heart. Because it’s one of two things here that will allow you to believe this album is just a miscalculation. The whispering stops and the singing that brings goose bumps returns. Sure, it’s just Molina and a guitar for the seventh time in a row, but it’s really him this time. “I guess your pain never weakened / your cool blood started burning / scorching most of us in the flame.” He’s dead serious on “Long Desert Train” and each time it comes on I know he’s singing to me. Which is what has always made Molina so fascinating to listen to. You play his songs and think he’s been peering in on your life and knows how to turn your tragedies into complete heartbreakers.
So I’ll continue to wait for the next release. Hell, the last line Molina delivers is “You almost made it again.” And of course he’s talking to himself. Because the sad truth is there is no one else there to listen.