Jason Molina. Eight Gates. Secretly Canadian

a1519624479_16The last recordings Jason Molina made before his untimely passing, Eight Gates is well above this writer’s expectations and, while not on a par with much of the music Molina made with Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, the album is a beguiling listen. Recorded in London around 2008, the disc features bare boned solo performances along with some which are more fleshed out (with the assistance of Chris Cacavas and Greg Norman). It’s a short disc, the nine songs clock in at under 30 minutes, but in its desolate beauty, one never feels short changed.

It’s always tempting to imagine the mindset of an artist when listening to a posthumous release and when that artist is Molina, a man who made minor key misery a theme of many of his songs and who died aged 39 from alcohol related illness, then one imagines that he knew this was to be his swansong. Of course, there’s no real way to determine that but in its essence, Eight Gates does have the feel of a self-penned eulogy. The album closes with Molina telling the studio team to shut up and let him sing The Crossroads + The Emptiness his way. It’s a song which could sit (un)comfortably within Neil Young’s ditch trilogy as Molina sings about his birthday as if it were a barrier to overcome.

Several of the songs are bracketed by birdsong, allegedly, field recording of parrots Molina found in his London garden (and fancifully imagined them to be descendents of a pair Jimi Hendrix had released into the London skies four decades earlier). They are the only rays of light here as the album opens with a drone of organ and cello over which Molina plucks spare electric guitar on Whisper Away. His voice sounds pained, searching for solace perhaps. Shadow Answers The Walls is given a more traditional band sound with percussion rattling away beneath a funereal organ, a sound harking back to Songs: Ohia and it remains pretty bleak. It’s a song where the brevity is an issue as it peters out at two minutes just as one was hoping for it to stretch out in the manner of some of Molina’s epics. The most fully fledged of the songs is Thistle Blue, the arrangement of which resembles the opening number but it is allowed to spread its wings somewhat as Molina delivers a song which seems to have been dredged from some ancient folk song.

The remainder are primarily Molina solo although there is occasional cello and organ accompaniment.  In the main dolorous, there’s a delicate beauty in Old Worry and on Be Told The Truth, the latter perhaps the most sorrowful song here.

Whether these songs were ever meant to be assembled in this manner or not, Eight Gates is an album which will surely be snapped up by fans of the late Molina. For others, it’s not the first album one would recommend but it has its haunting beauty and in time might be considered in the same breath as Nick Drake’s farewell album, Pink Moon.

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