Imagine that you are lost in the woods, somewhere in the northern
portion of our country. It's a little chilly and amazingly dark
as you wander through the collection of pine trees. All that
you have on your person is a bottle of whskey. Night birds like
owls and whipoorwills call out around you, but there is ...
something else. Something large is rumbling around out there,
quite likely a bear. And the bottle of whiskey is getting more
and more empty....
There is a level of rural loneliness and paranoia portrayed
in such a scene. And that's as close as i can get to the claustrophobic
non-urbaness of Songs: Ohia. This music is the antithesis of
hip-hop: it speaks of the wide open places, and being away from
the maddening press of millions of your close city mates. Being
alone in the woods gives one a feeling of freedom at being far
away from everyone else, but there is also a little bit of fear
knowing that the closest living thing your size might consider
you a meal.
I get such a feeling listening to Ghost Tropic.
The loneliness washes over me with each lightly strummed guitar
note, and the paranoia hovers in the air with every lingering
I find the overall effect exceedingly beautiful, but i can
see how some people would not be so amused. I had the CD in
rotation when i had The Minions over for my non-Christmas Party,
and about three minutes in someone said "Can we listen to something
a little less depressing?"
So it's not the happiest album. The mood it portrays so well
is a little down. But there is a place for such things.
Like the first time i listened to this CD. I had planned to
have it on in the background as i sat on the couch and read
a cheesey sci-fi novel. I was tired after a restless night,
lying on the couch on a grey day with my cat purring loudly
in my lap. I sat the book down and just lay there, watching
the naked tree limbs sway in the wind against the cold colorless
Decemeber sky. Swaying, seemingly in time to the light swaying
of Jason Molina's voice. The music absorbed my attention, and
for a moment, life was perfect.
That's some powerful stuff. It lends itself to serious listening.
The music itself is quite interesting even beyond the mood
that it paints so well. It's kind of minimalistic. Strummed
acoustic guitar. Occasional piano notes that linger in the air
in front of the guitars for several seconds at a stretch. Drums
that mercilessly plod through the rhythm of the song. Mournful
bass notes. And of course, slide guitar played so soulfully!
And then there's the voice. Molina (the mastermind behind Songs:
Ohia) uses his singing sparingly, preferring to let the guitar
and piano do the bulk of the work on this album. But when he
sings, he brings everything together into a shining moment of
crystal clarity. His voice is so unique: it wavers, but not
like tremolo. Not like he isn't successfully holding the notes,
but more like the notes are so strong that his voice can't hold
them still for long. In a way, he reminds me of Billy Bragg
in his softer moments, or Will Oldham in his busier moments.
It's different than either, but the emotionality that those
two express might give you some idea of what i'm talking about.
The voice and instrumentation flow in and around each other,
with occasional bird sounds as well, to paint the scene i described
above. I am really impressed with this CD. It blows me away.
However, i can see how a lot of people would be turned off by
it's slow pace and melancholy rhythms. Therefore, only 6 sponges.
However, if you want an album of subtle beauty that challenges
you just a little bit, then i strongly urge this release.