Jason Molina has been off the grid since 2009, going through rehab and getting his life back on track. He has communicated with his fans through friends a couple of times, and in May we got this message (excerpt):
“For the time being I am doing well, still in recovery and still in treatment until probably the summer does its thing. I’ve been writing a lot of music and eagerly anticipate the new 10” with Will Schaff’s book, word is that end of May we might finally get them. It is slow going, but it is going. …. Treatment is good, getting to deal with a lot of things that even the music didn’t want to.
…. Finally, there are actually some musical projects on the distant radar screen, but for those who understand, I am taking this in much smaller steps than I’m used to. Keep the lamps trimmed and burning!”
And that 10” he mentions is the reason we’re here together at this moment in time. Because the book he mentions finally got funded through crowd funding, and was released this fall. And it is magnificent.
Backstory: Before Molina took time off to get well, he recorded a bunch of songs to accompany his friend William Schaffs book, which collects most of his cover-art for bands like Magnolia Electric Co. and Okkervil River.
The book itself is wonderful. The artwork is both haunting and fantastic, and I think John Darnielle from the Mountain Goats says it best in his introduction:
«When I look at these small things – dark spaces into which light sometimes leaks, now accidentally and in small chunks, now grandly and with sudden, disruptive force – I think of Max Ernst, whose influence seems obvious. But I think also, perhaps less obviously, of Andy Warhol, who seemed to hold in abeyance the joy and terror of reptetition.»
And he concludes:
«The figures want to say something, but do not quite know how. In their helplessness they tell me at least one thing about themselves: That they are human beings. This is their strength, and their resonance, and the source of their fascination. They do what they can. Sometimes it ends badly for them. When it does, they cry out. You can’t miss it, even if you can’t hear it. It sticks with you»
Schaff himself tells us the story on how he got to know Molina, and how they have exchanged art over the years. He talks about how he sent Molina an owl-skull, and how it inspired him.
At one point Scheff and Molina challenged each other. Scheff war challenged to draw Molina with a bird-skull for head, which has become somewhat of a trademark for Scheff. Scheff challenged Molina to record him a version of a coversong he once heard him play. Not only did he get the coversong, he got an entire tape of raw material that would end up as the album “Magnolia Electric Co.” – which Scheff consequently made the fantastic cover-art for.
The book (with the 10” enclosed) is available both digitally and physically. 10% of the proceeds goes to Jason Molinas medical fund.
But let’s get back to the music. “Autumn Bird Songs” holds 8 songs, and the recordings are pretty basic. I’m guessing mostly one microphone capturing both voice and guitar, perhaps two. It sounds like it’s done at home, and the way the final song ends makes it sound like it’s been recorded on a tape-recorder of sorts. At times the vocal clips, but no matter what – it WORKS.
The intensity in Molinas voice just goes beyond worries on technical quality, one just doesn’t care as soon as he starts singing.
This is the last songs he wrote and recorded before going into rehab, making touring and recording impossible. And it’s at times heartbreaking to hear how he must have struggled with his demons. Take a listen to “Enough Of A Stranger”:
A hand. A strong hand. A strangers hand.
All the world divides fire into fire.
A wreck into the wreck.
All the work divides waste into waste.
Eyes into a strangers eyes.
The albums strongest track is probably “No Hand Was At The Wheel”. A song about heartbreak and how you suddenly can lose control over your own life – complete with Molinas unique imaginery:
The darkest day of the year
and my heart is on the rails
The darkest day of the year
and who’s hand’s at the wheel?
Those 8 songs are quite intense, and the nature of the recording ensures that vocals and lyrics handles all the progress. At the same time that’s all you need. Molinas ability to convey the essence here, the intensity and dispair is so strong that you don’t need a band or any production to get the point across. Molina comes across more as a poet than ever, and the depths of that mans mind is staggering.
This is not the place to start if you’re just getting into Jason Molina, but if you’re a fan – this is essential to understand the man and his music. I recommend both the album and the book, they are both magnificent.
Jason Molina – Heart My Heart
Jason Molina – No Hand Was At The Wheel
Buy it as pdf & mp3 or as hardcover with a 10” rainbowcolored vinyl at Graveface. (VERY limited stock)