Songs: Ohia – Magnolia Electric Co
Somethingyousaid.com’s Neil Martin fondly remembers Jason Molina as he reviews this 10th Anniversary Deluxe reissue:
On March 13 2013 Jason Molina slipped quietly away. His body giving up after years of alcohol abuse. He was 39-years-old. Rarely has a musician’s death affected me so deeply and I really wanted to write something about it when he died but words failed me. I know I spent the weeks following his death listening to nothing but his music and in particular this album. ‘Hold On Magnolia’ which I already considered one of the saddest, most powerful songs ever written took on a new poignancy and I must have listened to it 50 times in those weeks finding myself moved to tears each time. Revisiting it again for this anniversary reissue it still brings a lump to my throat and the line “You might be holding the last light I see, before the dark finally gets a hold of me” is simply devastating.
The album, which was Molina’s last under the Songs: Ohia moniker before adopting the Magnolia Electric Co. name, encapsulates pretty much my listening habits of the 2000’s and is responsible for much of my musical journey in that decade. It is a truly special album that I know holds a place in the hearts of those that heard it. The small altcountry message board that I am a member of obsessed over this record and it kindled a lifelong love of Molina’s music in many of us. When his death was announced the board came alive again with many of us that had not visited or posted for months (in some cases years) returning to share our collective grief and puzzle over how such a tragedy could happen to such a wonderful artist.
The clues were always there in the music and in particular this album. Desolate lyrics that explore the depths of broken relationships and depression coupled with a powerful, howling guitar driven sound that took American roots music and twisted it into heart wrenching new shapes. Neil Young is an obvious reference point and in particular the sloppy sonics of prime Crazy Horse. The album starts with ‘Farewell Transmission’ and as a statement of intent it doesn’t get any better. The guitars wail as Molina howls, “Here comes midnight with the dead moon in its jaws” and it really does feel like the last testament of a man on the brink. The album continues in this vein, revisiting themes and motifs throughout, particularly in the monstrous jam of ‘John Henry Split My Heart’ where it seems as if the whole world is crashing in around the hurricane of sound that the band creates. The album closes with the aforementioned ‘Hold On Magnolia’ which while sonically lighter, packs its biggest emotional punch.
This 10th Anniversary Deluxe reissue is a thing of beauty (particularly the gatefold vinyl) which repackages the original album with another disc featuring demos of all the tracks as well as a 10” EP with two previously unreleased songs from the Steve Albini produced sessions. For collectors and fans it is a real treat but it is also a perfect introduction for those who have never experienced Molina’s formidable catalogue.
I was lucky enough to see the band touring not long after this album was released and the live experience was as elemental and powerful as the music on display in this fine record. I spoke to Jason briefly after the show and he was a pleasant and engaging man, happy to spend time with his fans. I miss him and the fact we will not hear any new music from him means my life will be musically emptier. Magnolia Electric Co. is a fitting testament to the man’s life and music that will ensure he lives on in the hearts of his fans. A tragic loss to the world of music and my heart goes out to those he left behind.
Words by Neil Martin.