RIP Jason Molina

So so sad. So tragic. The man made beautiful music, a gifted, brilliant song writer. Rest in peace, Jason.
From Pitchfork today:


Jason Molina
Remembering the late Midwestern singer/songwriter and leader of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., who passed away last weekend at age 39.
By Stephen M. Deusner , March 19, 2013

“It is slow going, but it is going.”
Jason Molina wrote those words last year in a brief, warm letter to fans, in which he described his treatment for alcohol abuse and recounted his various travels over the last few years-- from Chicago to London to West Virginia to Indianapolis. He had largely fallen off the radar in 2009, after abruptly canceling a tour with Will Johnson to support their recently released collaborative album Molina and Johnson. His absence was uncharacteristic, as he had been a prolific recording and touring artist for nearly 15 years at that point. His silence worried his fans, and that letter was the first most of us had heard from him in three long years.
It was, at the time, reassuring. Not only did Molina seem to be making strides toward sustained sobriety and renewed health, but he acknowledged both the impact his music had on listeners and the effect their generosity had on him. Perhaps we read too much into the note, too much of what we wanted to hear, but Molina sounded like he wanted to get back to making music again. “It is slow going, but it is going.” The statement was succinct and hopeful, as promising as a song lyric.
Tragically, it went too slowly. Ravaged by a decade of hard drinking, Molina died on Saturday at his home in Indianapolis. The cause was organ failure due to extreme alcoholism. He was 39. When I read the news, I was not surprised, and that made me sad and scared. It's what we expect from addicts, especially alcoholics. The disease can be a slow form of suicide, and painful for everyone involved. Molina did, however, manage to face up to his demons before he died, and that accomplishment should not be ignored.
Growing up outside of Cleveland, Molina was a heavy metal fan during his teens, and in his 20s, he started making music that tended toward fractured folk and damaged country. His first singles under the Songs: Ohia banner, released in the mid 1990s, were stark, scratchy tunes, and he would bear countless comparisons to both Will Oldham and Neil Young throughout his career. Nevertheless, his songwriting voice was distinctive and personal. If you’ve heard a Jason Molina song, you know he used music to express dark concerns about the nature of life and death.
And when I played some of his older material over the last few days, it sounded newly complicated, almost as though he was warning us of something. Sung in a broken croak of a voice, his songs were reports from a lonesome valley. He had scouted ahead and was haunted by what he saw. From his earliest days in Songs: Ohia, he referred to it vaguely as “the blues,” a term that took on new associations as his career progressed and his catalog expanded. It’s a loaded word, for sure, with great musical as well as psychological weight. It implies hellhounds and crossroads, the roots of rock and a specifically American angst. Molina’s songs were riddled with similar metaphors and allusions -- to literature, to history, to pop music, to folk beliefs, to Revelation monsters. Ghosts figure prominently in his lyrics, as does the moon. On “Memphis Moon” and “Spanish Moon Fall and Rise”-- two late-career highlights-- it is a source of reflected light by which Molina navigated the darkness.
Navigation is crucial to Molina’s music. While his songs often allude to specific places (Sewell Mountain in West Virginia, Shiloh battlefield in Tennessee), they are not necessarily about locations but the empty spaces in between. There is a sense of imminent arrival in his music but nothing so concrete as a homecoming, which makes his albums unsettling companions on long treks (preferably along a deserted highway, at night). When he shuttered Songs: Ohia and founded Magnolia Electric Co. in the early 2000s, he began indulging long solos and classic rock jams, but even at his sparest-- he frequently recorded by himself with an acoustic guitar-- he sounded like a man very far from home.
Molina wrote what he knew. Since his early 20s, he was on the road more often than not, although it remains unclear if travel inspired his music or if music inspired his travel. Perhaps there was nothing so simple as a cause-and-effect relationship between the two. And while it’s always tempting to re-read a musician’s work in wake of his death, Molina’s life was inevitably bound up in his art. That’s what gave his songs their troubling power. That’s what made us come along for the long drive.
Photo by Steve Gullick
Molina leaves behind a sprawling and unruly catalog that spans nearly 20 years. During that time, he recorded under both the Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. aliases as well as under his own name. He collaborated frequently and adventurously, releasing joint efforts with Scout Niblett, Oneida, and Glen Hansard, among many others. Here are 10 highlights from throughout his career:
Songs: Ohia: Songs: Ohia (1997)
Is Songs the band name? Is the album titled Ohia? The unusual punctuation and deliberate misspelling of Molina’s home state may have initially puzzled listeners, but the gorgeously frayed Americana within this album was filtered through an intriguing DIY aesthetic and sung in an oddball bleat. Known to fans as the Black Album (likely for its subject matter as much as for its cover image), it conjured a world that was much darker than Molina’s alt-country contemporaries.
Songs: Ohia: Axxess and Ace (1999)
This is Molina’s great Chicago album, featuring a who’s who of local musicians: Edith Frost, members of Pinetop Seven, Rex, Boxhead Ensemble. The arrangements were largely improvised in the studio, but the performances are inventive and rambunctious. The result is one Molina’s wiliest and most eclectic albums, with “Captain Badass” and “How to Be Perfect Men” showcasing a bleak sense of humor that we would catch only rare glimpses of in the future.
Songs: Ohia: Didn’t It Rain (2002)
The title of Songs: Ohia’s eighth full-length comes from a traditional gospel number about the Great Flood, but when Molina sings those three words at the end of the title track, it’s less a shout-out to Mahalia Jackson than it is a declaration of survival in the face of cataclysm. He worries over the apocalypse and seems to taunt Death Himself on “Cross the Road, Molina”, yet the most disturbing aspect of Didn’t It Rain is the production, which makes room for space and silence, as though emptiness was just another instrument in the mix.
Amalgamated Sons of Rest: Amalgamated Sons of Rest EP (2002)
This one-off EP with Will Oldham and Alasdair Roberts was largely dismissed as a curio upon release. More than a decade after those initial expectations, it has gained stature if not notoriety in Molina’s catalog. The pacing is slow but treacherous, as though the songs are walking across slippery stones. Molina sings lead on “The Gypsy He-Witch” and the lovely “Jennie Blackbird’s Blues”, but perhaps the most interesting aspect of Sons is how he backs the other two up, playing a sideman instead of a bandleader.
My Morning Jacket/Songs: Ohia: Split EP (2002)
This one might be a bit controversial, since Louisville’s favorite sons have four tracks to Molina’s one, but closer “Translation” rambles to 10 minutes, eschewing classic-rock drama for skeletal country rock as Molina meditates on the promise and threat of change. It goes by surprisingly fast, with Molina humming to himself during the last three minutes as the song dissembles into a ragged coda.

Songs: Ohia: Magnolia Electric Co. (2003)
Consider it another split. Or possibly Songs: Ohia as covered by Magnolia Electric Co. Just as his original alias seemed poised to break out, Molina put together an actual band. This was the first sign that he had his sights set on something more accessible and arguably more ambitious than the indie Americana he had been making for the past six years. Magnolia Electric Co. was classic rock re-imagined as something more personal than populist, with emotions so heavy he needed a full rock band to lift them. It marked such a decisive change in direction that Molina chose that album title as his new moniker going forward.
Magnolia Electric Co.: Fading Trails (2006)
Magnolia Electric Co. sharpened their chops on the road and Molina refined his delivery as the years added new, lower textures to his voice. By 2006, they had it all figured out, and Fading Trails is arguably the Co.’s best album. Neil Young was routinely name-dropped in reviews as an obvious influence, not only on the quiet folksy numbers but also on the crunchier Crazy Horse-style rockers. Yet, Molina’s worries on “Lonesome Valley” and “Talk to Me Devil, Again” are his own, and those guitars sound endlessly sympathetic to his troubles.
Magnolia Electric Co.: Sojourner (2007)
Magnolia Electric Co.’s six-year tenure was uneven, marked by some powerful peaks as well as some self-indulgent lows. And yet, rather than a simple re-release, Molina curated his songs along new themes for limited-edition box set Sojourner: the occultic The Black Ram, the short Sun Session EP (four songs recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis), the gently countrified Nashville Moon, and the achingly lonely Shohola. In this new context, songs like “What Comes After the Blues” and “In the Human World” take on new life as Molina continues to map the American landscape as well as his own emotional geography.
Molina Johnson: Molina and Johnson (2009)
Four years ago, when I reviewed this album by Molina and Denton, Texas, mainstay Will Johnson, I criticized it for being long on atmosphere and short on songs. My reservations remains, yet over the years Molina and Johnson has revealed new depths and subtler forms-- in general, a finer sense of purpose. There’s something disquieting about the subdued hooks on “Twenty Cycles to the Ground” and the growled notes on “Now, Divide”, as though these matters are so private that Molina and Johnson are reluctant to invite you into the songs. Ultimately, it’s less about songs and lyrics than it is about voices. And their voices mix beautifully.
Jason Molina: Autumn Bird Songs (2012)
Molina’s final release should be only a minor addendum to his career. It is a short collection of scratchy acoustic demos, originally intended to accompany a book by artist William Schaff. These weren’t new songs, nor had they been developed from their initial lo-fi recordings, yet they’re full of disarming images, whispered confessions, and delicate melodies. In fact, a few of them-- “Enough of a Stranger”, “Heart My Heart”, and “No Hand Was at the Wheel”-- stand among his best compositions. Upon its release, it was tempting to hear something like renewal and recovery in Autumn Bird Songs, especially since it so clearly echoed Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain. But what we hoped was a new chapter turned out to be the final word.
Thank You Richard.I don't yet know this artist,but your eloquent article will make me seek him out.
I discovered him around a year ago. Bought everything I could on vinyl. Glad I did.
I also wanted to say how much his music touched me. He had a lot to say and said it very, very well....
Well, I've made two responses in the last two days..... I tried to contribute!