Beards, Blazers & Glasses: Magnolia Electric Company
Jason Molina is the most underrated singer/songwriter in music. Sure, he's somewhat of a critical favorite, but nowhere near the level of Iron & Wine, Bright Eyes, or Sufjan Stevens. He's never been called the new Elliot Smith, or the new Bob Dylan or the new "magical angel fairy wings pixie dust snowglobe" (or whatever stupid nickname Sufjan's giving himself these days).
Indeed, there's something profoundly un-trendy about Jason Molina, the anachronistic way of his folky, country-rock tinged dirges about ghosts, devils and lonesome mooms. A timeless lyricism recalling Neil Young, trapped somewhere between Harvest and On the Beach. And watching Molina live, backed by a four-piece backing band, it was difficult to see anybody but old Shakey in the spirit of Molina's frail but sturdy ballads, surging electric guitars, and warm, cracked-glass falsetto.
Whether its his Songs Ohia material, his Magnolia Electric work or solo, Molina doesn't write songs to send the Hype Machine racing. His songs feel distinctly out of their time, as though they should only be played to the accompaniment of scratches and hisses of a worn vinyl. Wearing a large brown cowboy hat, Molina shields his face from the crowd, diminutive stature hidden underneath a big orange guitar. He doesn't talk much, but occasionally breaks between songs to thank everyone with a bow of the head and some folksy Midwestern courtesies.
The band sends a haunting organ lick into the only half-crowded El Rey and Molina sings with his wearied American apathy and you stop whatever it is you're talking about to focus. The drummer beats tricky constantly-changing drum patterns, making it look all too easy. The bass lines are elastic but melancholy, ducking and weaving with each note. Then Molina splits the air with a widowing electric guitar lick that might not hit the levels of Young, but easily the best since.
And all I can do is wonder how 10 years and just as many albums into his career, Molina is still opening up for anybody. Especially in a mid-sized venue like Los Angeles' El Rey, playing to the small crowd of die-hards come early before Son Volt. Jason Molina is the real deal and I'm sure a whole lot of people reading this have already arrived at this conclusion, probably years earlier. But seeing him live for the first time, made exactly clear how talented Molina is, how much more better he is than almost any of his peers.
Magnolia Electric released their their second album, Fading Trails last September on Secretly Canadian (after Molina switched his project's name from Songs Ohia sometime in 2004.) It's a very good record and you should probably buy it, but if you don't I'm sure Molina will put out another another one really soon (he and Ryan Adams seem to be having some sort of duel). While his opening set was just 40 minutes, it was an adequate window into his brilliance. It might be not full of the bells, whistles and absurd pageantry of his "indier" peers, but possesses a worn-in, wood floor, fire-place crackling sense of Americana all too rare in contemporary music.
Buy Fading Trails
From Fading Trails
MP3: Magnolia Electric Co-"Lonesome Valley"
From What Comes After The Blues
MP3: Magnolia Electric Co.-"The Dark Don't Hide It"
MP3: Magnolia Electric Co.-"Leave the City"
From Magnolia Electric Co.
MP3: Magnolia Electric Co-"Farewell Transmission"