01 April 2008

More Ghosts, Etc.

Magnolia Electric Co.—Fading Trails (Secretly Canadian, 2006)

GlossaryFor What I Don’t Become (Undertow Music, 2006)

Molina, the central figure behind Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. might be trying to write enough songs to create his own blues tradition. I mention the word ‘blues’ in a loose and interpretative way—Molina is not a bluesman but he is obsessed with the effect that the blues have on contemporary society and (to quote C.G. Jung) modern man in search of a soul. Most of his compositions deal directly with recurring themes of contemporary displacement; ghosts haunt men, love splits hearts in two, wolves are on the attack, and music is the only light in the darkness. Molina scours the horizons and the grimy highways of the American landscape in both his music and his troubadour lifestyle (the man is constantly on tour either alone or with his band). But the roadblock that he’s continually running up against is that even if his introspection is better than most, his music is still lagging behind him trying to thumb a ride.

MECo.’s last album, What Comes After the Blues, was a disappointing follow-up to a triumphant debut. Songs: Ohia’s final album was actually MECo.’s first; though it was titled Magnolia Electric Co. it was the first incarnation of Molina’s band. Molina could have been a Goliath in the music scene if he had maintained some sort of consistency. Unfortunately, Fading Trails is just more proof of how much he’s fallen from grace.

At nine songs, (one more than the last album) there’s a lot of empty disc space to cover. But the album is filled with too many atonal piano chords, single guitar strums, and echo-laden vocals. “Don’t Fade on Me” and “Lonesome Valley,” the first and third tracks respectively, are where you’re going to get your money. Both are reminiscent of the full band onslaught that Molina has proven he’s so adept at and both are near the front of the album giving the listener a false sense of hope for a return to form. “Montgomery,” a slapdash track that comes in at under two minutes, demonstrates with better efficiency the ‘less-is-more’ aesthetic that takes hold of the latter half of the album. Beginning around song five, the painful piano twinkled “The Old Horizon,” we get to hear the self-indulgent whimsies of songs with no backbone—and no backing band. By the time you get to the end, the whispery “Steady Now,” if you’re not already asleep it’s just because you’re in awe that you’ve come so far with little to no reward. On “A Little At a Time,” Molina asks us imploringly, “you can’t lose it all at once, can you really?” Instead of waiting for a reply, he answers his own question—“’cause brother I’ve been trying.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the road, a quintet from Murfreesboro, TN is picking the bones on the highway that Molina is tossing out and making them whole again. It might be a bit of a misnomer to associate Glossary with MECo. because the former sound more like they’ve picked up the extinguished torch that Whiskeytown dropped oh-so-many years ago and set it ablaze with new fervor.

As young as they seem, I get the feeling that these guys don’t fake their world weariness—a feeling I sometimes gather from MECo. A quick glance at their MySpace page tells you that their influences are “day jobs and student loans.” Damn right. The songs are more electric on this, their sophomore LP. Glossary’s previous LP, the superb How We Handle Our Midnights, held a few moments of quiet acoustic introspection but not so this go ‘round. Songs like “Shaking Like a Flame,” “Poor Boy,” and “Devils In the Details” come out ready to remind the listener that sometimes you need to plug in and make an electric noise to keep the darkness away.

Glossary’s songs are, like MECo.’s, a push against death and a rallying cry to enjoy life in the midst of all its misery. Even though on “Shaking Like a Flame,” we are “surrounding by rows and rows of the same house/stretched out under the sky/ like a cemetery that waits for you to die,” it’s encouraging to remember that, on “American Bruises,” we’re reminded that “bruises only last/long enough for the pain to pass.” Yeah, life sucks, especially in an era of fear-mongering, twisted rhetoric, and a general lack of intelligence and regard for human life, but rather than wallow in it, Glossary want us to find the brilliance in the simple routines of life, whether it be a good night’s sleep or remembering that life is short. Do yourself a favor, pick up both of Glossary’s albums, have a drink, and enjoy today. Tomorrow you can let the ghosts of Molina and Co. back in.

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