Jason Molina – ‘Eight Gates’ review: battered and bruised with a twist of beauty; a fitting send off

This posthumous release pays tribute to the late singer-songwriter's ability to craft a searing sense of melancholy from fractured imagery

The legacy of the late Jason Molina, who tragically passed at the age of 39 in March 2013 after a battle with alcoholism, remains something to be revered. With over 20 years’ of material and hundreds of songs released under different monikers (from Songs: Ohia in the mid-’90s to early ‘00s and Magnolia Electric Co. from 2003 to 2012), his influence rings out from the underground scene to this day.

The prolific, Ohio-born artist constantly reinvented his sound across his albums, from Southern gothic Americana on ‘Didn’t It Rain’ (2002) to indie-folk blues on ‘Magnolia Electric Co.’ (2003). That said, Molina’s discography remains thematically concise – throughout he expertly captures the feelings of longing, loneliness and sentimentality.

Concluding this extensive career is his last nine-track collection of largely acoustic-led solo recordings, the quietly devastating ‘Eight Gates’. Singing desolate lullabies of a “howling universe” on ‘Whisper Away’ and a “beggars’ hands” on ‘Be Told The Truth’, Molina uses bewitchingly desolate symbolism to depict a world disintegrating. He’s accompanied by agitated guitar progressions and solemn, ceremonious organs, along with smooth, winding strings, and the instrumentation rings out achingly as Molina’s voice veers between melodic intonation and wounded harshness.

These haunting pieces of poetry conjure up a musical eulogy. As is often the case with Molina, however, there’s space left for those moments of quiet hope: several tracks are peppered with the twittering of parakeets who’d gather outside Molina’s London home, where he spent his final years.

As a whole, ‘Eight Gates’ generates a sense of grief, isolation and existentialism. Molina’s lyrics remain consistently cryptic; he enigmatically refers to “unblessing the bell”, for example, on ‘Shadow Answers the Wall’. This is part of his unique methodology; he weaves together stories as a number of images that are, as he explained in one interview, “open to the interpretation of anybody”. Rather than forming cohesive narrative in his music, Molina was brilliant for his ability to evoke pangs of nostalgic melancholy with fractured images.

Molina saw his songs as “living animals”, parts of himself that carry his message. At the start of album track ‘She Says’, he muses that you can make “the perfect take… just as long as the person singing is still alive”. It’s a heartbreaking moment, and yet these songs, Molina’s living animals, continue to make their way through the world, ensuring that their creator’s legacy lives on.

Details


Release date: August 7

Record label: Secretly Canadian

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