Lost Transmissions - Thoughts on Music.

29 January 2024

Neon Lights Shining

Welcome to Hell World has had a Jason Molina list sitting in my Tabs for a few days now, and it’s a great read and a great list of tracks by a great musician of whom I am very fond. And as someone who (along with Veins Full of Static) ordained him posthumously I took a week and listened through the music made in different guises; Songs: Ohia, Magnolia Electric Co. and under his own name.

Jason Molina’s music feels hard to pigeon hole into a genre. It’s not folk, but it’s not not folk. It’s not country, but it’s not not country. But it’s not indie rock, it’s not singer songwriter, but again it’s not not those things. But he’s someone who should, in my opinion, have been respected as one of the great American songwriters, alongside Dylan, Stipe, Young, Eitzel, to name a few.

I’ve had a great week listening to them closely, reading the lyrics and singing along, and this is a list of some of my favourites.

Hammer Down

(Magnolia Electric Co. - What Comes After The Blues)

Hammer Down is a song that I can just listen to over and over again on repeat. Not the happiest song, but a song about giving up the fight isn’t exactly out of place in the Molina oeuvre. The meat of the song is just this beautiful imagery

I think the stars are just the neon lights
Shining through the dance floor
Shining through the dance floor
Of Heaven on a Saturday night

I want to get that tattooed on my body somewhere, if, y’know, I wasn’t too forgetful or disorganised to make an appointment for a tattoo. The stars are already there from a past life, but it feels right.

Coxcomb Red

(Songs: Ohia - The Lioness)

Coxcomb Red is one of the earliest Songs: Ohia songs I remember hearing, but I don’t know when it would have been, sometime in the early 2000’s I guess. The chorus lines just stuck in my head instantly

Your hair was coxcomb red
Your eyes were viper black

The Dark Don’t Hide It

(Magnolia Electric Co. - What Comes After The Blues)

The first time I saw Jason play with at The Dirty Three ATP in 2007, when Magnolia Electric Co. were the opening act for the Dirty Three gig on the first night and I left with The Dark Don’t Hide It in my head. Walking through the main stage area at lunchtime the next day I discovered them playing a second, unplanned set and got to listen again to that solo at the end.

I saw Jason standing watching the following acts at the stage, and chatting to anyone who approached. My everlasting impression of him was how friendly he was. I didn’t talk to him.

Now death is gonna hold us up in the mirror
And say we’re so much alike we must be brothers
See I had a job to do but people like you
Been doing it for me to one another

Hold On Magnolia

(Songs: Ohia - The Magnolia Electric Company)

The Magnolia Electric Company (album, not the band) was, for me at least, the first time that Jason put the music on an even par with the vocals, and finally the songs have more filled out arrangements the perfectly match the lyrics - and ultimately led the way for Magnolia Electric Co. (the band, not the album).

Hold On Magnolia has a lovely arrangement of strings and slide guitar that really give emotional weight to Jason pleading “Hold on Magnolia” as he seems to wrestle with death once more.

Hold on Magnolia
I hear that station bell ring
You might be holding the last light I see
Before the dark finally gets a hold of me

The Black Crow

(Songs: Ohia - The Lioness)

Recorded in Scotland and involving members of Arabstrap and it shows, a minimialist guitar track that builds slowly over the course of 7 minutes and I’m a sucker for repetition and crescendos and then breaks loose at the 5 minute mark.

I’m getting weaker I’m getting thin
I hate how obvious I have been
I’m getting weaker, weaker, weaker

How To Be Perfect Men

(Songs: Ohia - Axxess & Ace)

People talk about the self-mythologising of Jason Molina, but on record he always felt honest about what he was dealing with, and this song strikes a chord with me, cos god knows I fuck up.

I will get it wrong
Be mine
Till you’re reminded of something better

Blue Factory Flame / Two Blue Lights / Blue Chicago Moon

(Songs: Ohia - Didn’t It Rain)

2002’s Didn’t It Rain finishes with three songs, sharing some similar themes of isolation, emptiness and loneliness in a broken city and, because they all have the word Blue in the title, are referred to, by me and no-one else, as The Blue Trilogy. It opens with the line “When I die put my bones in an empty street to remind me of how it used to be.” This feels a more noir version of Townes Van Zandt’s wish for his disposal in My Proud Mountains, where he wants to be laid down easy on a lonesome hill to look out at his mountains and the sun. Molina conjures up misty rain washed streets, soot greys and blacks as the iron ore ships sail past.

The shortest song of the trilogy, Two Blue Lights, keeps the nighttime noir broken city vibe, the moon and the bus colouring the world blue and the line “When the bells ring twelve times in hell the bells ring twelve times in this town as well”

Blue Chicago Moon (there’s the moon again…) comes “out of the ruins” of the previous two songs and closes the album with a song which is, dare I say it, up beat and encouraging - which is why I’ve ended this list with these songs. There’s a lot of darkness to Jason Molina’s music - but it’s never an end, it stops short at that critical juncture, the cliff edge and pulls back.

if the blues are your hunter
then you will come face to face
with that darkness and desolation
and the endless depression
but you are not helpless
and you are not helpless
try to beat it
try to beat it
and live through space’s loneliness
and live through space’s loneliness
you are not helpless
you are not helpless
i’ll help you to try to beat it

For the Reverend Jason Molina (1973 - 2013) RIP