Sunday, July 26, 2009

Requested Review: "Songs: Ohia" by Songs: Ohia

Jason Molina And His Owls

Today's requested review is a bit of a corker, folks. That is because it has been requested by none other than Mr. John Keogh, creator of the famed "digital comic strip" Lucid TV! Wowzers. In case you have not been informed about the current "internetted sequential picture" phenomenon, they are just like the regular comic strips you would find in your daily Funnies newspaper page ("Hi and Lois" and the like), only they are painstakingly pieced together with millions of 1's and 0's so they may appear on your computer's screen. As such, creating them is an arduous, lonely task only taken upon by the bravest and most brilliant minds of our generation. Mr. Keogh has not only managed to create one of these elusive things, he has somehow managed to make some very funny jokes with them as well! No small task.

Seriously, though, he's a very talented and nice guy and you should read his stuff post-haste if you haven't already. Unfortunately he has saddled me with the difficult task of reviewing Songs: Ohia's self-titled 1997 debut - his favorite album. Now, I am perfectly willing to accept any and all requests for reviews, but hey, I don't wanna break any hearts here! For all I know John could be pinning his entire soul's emotion on my opinion of this, the record he loves more than all, and if I don't like it he may regress into a childlike state of unhinged despair, shocking him into pre-natal unconsciousness (yes, yes, that made perfect sense and I am a talented writer). I mean, you never know, right?

But, no. No. I will be honest. I must be honest. Songs: Ohia is one boring piece of indie-folk SHITTT.

Haha. Hah! Wait, no. No. I misspoke. I meant to say "it's pretty good."

Now I will admit that, just from my first listen of Songs: Ohia, I could already tell that this type of album was not quite my cup of tea. What we have here is "indie"-folk (I am getting a little tired of that term, hence the superfluous quotations) at its absolute sparest: just singer-songwriter Jason Molina, his acoustic guitar, some soft percussion, and little else. Once in a while, some extra instruments will come in-and-out - a clarinet here, a banjo there, an accordion everywhere - but for the most part, Molina's musical approach is pretty bare bones. It's an interesting sound, but one that might become a little tiresome depending on your tastes; many of these songs are dark, foreboding, and deathly slow (especially "Crab Orchard" and "Big Sewell Mt."), not to mention that Molina's voice falls into a Jeff Magnum-esque reediness ("reediness," yes, as if I even knew what that meant). The entire mood of this record is downtrodden, low-key, but not quite mellow; I mean, this isn't Jack Johnson or any of that silliness. Oh, oh no. There's a darkness in this record, one that I can't quite put my finger on. Whatever it is, it makes this album perfectly suited to late-night listening.

Like I said, the super-spare approach on this album might turn some people off. I myself find most of these songs to be a little samey, to the point where I have trouble telling a few of them apart (which is my least favorite listening experience to admit - I feel like a child just saying it, but there it is). Molina's approach can certainly be hypnotic - and, at times, strangely comforting in its honesty - but it isn't one that always "hooks" me, so to speak. It is not a record that makes me want to "get down like a clown," see. Molina sounds so down and out, and the music is so muted at times, that I just lose interest. There are those moments, though, where Songs: Ohia rises above the surface and truly kicks some indie-folk butt. Like the dirgey opening track "Cabwaylingo", with its spindly banjo and pretty melody. Or the out-of-nowhere Molina-yelp "you have BRACED around your smile!!" at the end of otherwise-quiet "Gauley Bridge" before the song just ends all of the sudden for no real reason. Or there's my favorite track here, "Our Republic," which suddenly BURSTS into an accordion-driven SUPERJAM in its last minute, with Molina's voice rising above some dramatic instrumentation. Also I think there's a sax solo at the end! Of all things!! (That IS a saxophone, right? I am terrible at recognizing instruments in songs. I should not be reviewing music.) It is a very exciting moment in the middle of an album that is obviously not meant to be exciting.

OK, maybe that was a bit of a dick thing to say. Does the type of acoustic folk found on Songs: Ohia really need to be "exciting"? No, probably not. This is not music that is meant to get you on your feet, you see. This is the type of music you throw on the CD player next to your bed and fall sweetly to sleep to. At least that's how I hear it! I don't mean that as an insult - it has a sort of hypnotic, relaxing effect, you see. At times I like music that makes me fall asleep.

Oh, god, I don't even remember what I'm trying to say here.

Oh hey, have you noticed that I have not even mentioned anything about the lyrics on this album? Not even a little bit? I have listened to this thing about four or five times now, straight through, and I have not even paid attention to them. I don't remember a single line. God, that's terrible, isn't it? I remembered every "suck my royal dick" line in that shitty LMFAO album, but when it comes to an album in which the lyrics are probably pretty good, I draw a blank. Awful! Apparently if lyrics aren't obnoxiously shoved in my face like an exotic dancer's behind, they don't even register. I am a child.

(No, actually, I hate writing about lyrics. I do. I love great lyrics if they're good and funny and whatnot, but man - I gotta look them up, copy-and-paste them into Blogger, and awkwardly tie them into whatever stupid theme I'm trying to push. Not fun! Also, I shouldn't be reviewing music.)

So there is the big question: will I ever listen to this record again? Yeah, maybe. I could see myself doing that. Not often, mind you - like I already mentioned, this kind of music is just not for me at the end of the day. I mean, why listen to this when I've got the smooth sounds of soulDecision to keep me warm at night?? Right, right. But I do find many aspects of this record compelling - like I said, it's a good record to put on at 2 in the morning with the lights dimmed - not to mention that there are many many respectable music fans who would enjoy this album much more than I do. Like John Keogh, for example! It's his favorite album after all.

So overall: it's pretty good! Worth a listen. Just don't ask me about the lyrics. Jason Molina is still around nowadays as Magnolia Electric Co., which in my limited experience is a little less heavy on the acoustic folk and a little more "rockin'", so to speak. Would I be right in assuming this, readers?? Please answer.

And there is your review, Mr. Keogh. I expect that in exchange for this non-committal, borderline dismissive summation of your absolute favorite album of all time, you will commit to updating Lucid TV every single day for the rest of your life while sending me each original print in advance the moment they are finished - via first-class mail - so I receive a healthy dose of "The Funny" before anybody else does. That's a fair tradeoff, right?

(One small P.S. - I was going to make a joke about how I used the word "spare" way too many times in this review, but upon searching for it I apparently only used it twice! Same goes for "hypnotic" and the phrase "so to speak" - only twice each! Wow!! I must be getting good at this.)

(Oh, P.P.S. - apparently the version of this album I have is "incorrect." According to Wikipedia none of the song titles I mentioned are actually the real titles of the songs! Just stupid fake ones Jason Molina printed on the album's sleeve. What a prick! Trying to deceive me like that.

Also, my version is apparently the vinyl version, with "Greenbrier/For You" added and "Hayfoot/UMW Pension" removed. So I guess this review is in no way authoritative. Having not heard "Hayfoot," I will just go ahead and assume it sounds like most of the other songs on here, but I could be wrong! For all I know it could be a British psych-phase pastiche in the style of the Small Faces' "Itchycoo Park." If so, could someone hook a brother up with an mp3??)

1 comment:

Matt said...

Sweet new masthead. I'm trying to figure out what the record on the upper right is.