REVIEW: Magnolia Electric Co. - Josephine

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Inside the already cultish world of indie rock, Magnolia Electric Co. has succeeded in forming their own cult. Lead by Jason Molina, the group has survived a transformation from one of the oddest band names ever "Songs: Ohia" into the fourth proper album under the Magnolia Electric Co. moniker: Josephine. Yet, what connects the names is not only Molina but the sparse, dark, brooding sound -- the two packs and 30 min. to heaven sound.

A concept album based around the death of the band's bassist, Evan Farrell, Josephine is a startlingly focused, lonely album perhaps even more focused and lonely than any of the group's previous work. And for a band that uses sorrow as capital, that's saying something. The opening track "O! Grace" as well as follower "Rock of Ages" conjure a Biblical tone with pianos leading both melodies as Molina's croon seems to beckon us not to the pews but to graveyards and solace. Farrell's death cuts across this album in a way that is not nostalgic or passive but remorseful and somewhat constant. In the tradition of folk music, death remains (as it does in life) a harsh inevitablility--one that brings despair as well as hope. As Molina sings on "Song for Willie," "As long as there are sundowns / there will always be a west / there will always be the west." It's a bold stroke for an already bold band. One so confident in their work not only as a band but also in their masterful parternship with knob twiddler extraordinaire Steve Albini that they seem at their best to reinvent hymns to God and turn them into hymns for men.

This album has some of the most easily rendered, difficult lyrics that I've heard this year. From the opening "I felt as lonesome as the world's first ghost" to (possibly) the lyric of the year "Why Lord always the valley? / Why Lord always the dawn? / Is it so goodbye and I love you / will echo on?" in "Heartbreak at Ten Paces" this is Molina's masterwork as a lyricist. Capturing not only desolation but also indifference and possibility, Molina's words draw us in and out of the brooding instrumentation capturing an emotive quality absent from most music these days. The ghosts that haunt these lines are the dead, but us who continue living with out those who have passed along.

In the full, boozy light of summer this album is a somber, bitter pill. All the more reason we have to take it.

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