Magnolia Electric Co. | Fading Trails (Secretly Canadian)

He has become one of those unassailable indie stalwarts, inescapably tied to his acclaim. But, like all great artists, Molina falters only in comparison with himself.

 


Jason Molina has slipped into many critics' consciousness, whether recording under his own name, under Songs: Ohia, or his latest moniker, Magnolia Electric Co. Thing is, I think all of the critics have slipped into mine. He has become one of those unassailable indie stalwarts, inescapably tied to his acclaim. But, like all great artists, Molina falters only in comparison with himself. The stark, wavering vocals, jagged guitars, haunted and haunting lyricism-each element is in its place, punctuated by an always strong supporting cast. Yet it is the songs themselves that lack the gravity of Molina's best work.

Fading Trails treads familiar territory, but it never reaches the heights (or the depths) of cuts such as "Hammer Down" and "Hard to Love a Man" from the last album, What Comes After the Blues. Like that disc, this set of songs is unfortunately inconsistent. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the songs were pieced together from four separate recording sessions. The sculpted edges of Steve Albini rub shoulders with the hiss of home recording, producing the disorienting result of sounding like a retrospective in place of an album proper. Yet, by all accounts, this is not to be taken as a compilation.

The front end is loaded with the mid-tempo Neil Young/Crazy Horse chug fans have become accustomed to, particularly on the winding build of "Don't Fade On Me." Echoing Young's pronouncement that he would rather "burn out than fade away," Molina sings, "And I thought that no one lived for nothing now/Even Christ stayed until he had run out of doubt/But you faded on me." Call me nostalgic, but I am always drawn to the isolated tones of Molina's restrained acoustics reminiscent of Songs: Ohia. "A Little at a Time" sounds as desolate as any brokenhearted love song you will hear this year or any other.

One of Molina's many draws is that his desperation is restrained, but unveiled. In "Lonesome Valley," he sings, "I will be punished by a civil death/If I've done enough but not my best." Molina will ultimately be his only judge. He has stated in many interviews that he does not believe that he has written the songs he is capable of composing. He has done enough for some, but nowhere near his best here.

RIYL: Will Oldham, Nick Drake, Songs: Ohia

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