Magnolia Electric Co. performs at Rubber Gloves on Saturday, September 30.
Jason Molina might be a funny guy in person, but on record he's a manic-depressive for the ages, alternating between mid-tempo anthems of loneliness and lo-fi acoustic dirges so desolate they could have been recorded in the stairwell at a mental hospital. On Fading Trails (his third studio album under the Magnolia Electric Co. moniker), the songwriter mines the same tried and true lyrical territory we've come to expect, repeatedly name-checking the moon, the stars and the wolves along the way--it's as if someone switched out his dictionary for a Jack London novel. To Molina's credit, he uses his limited palette to his advantage, finding magic in simple phrasing while evoking the spare poetry of Will Oldham and Willie Nelson, especially on standout tracks "A Little at a Time" ("Maybe if I send back the blues her broken heart/She will send back mine") and "Montgomery Bound" ("You see I make my mistakes on my own time/Now let the twilight show the girls the town/This boy is Montgomery bound") Recorded over four sessions in Chicago, Richmond and Memphis, the album never quite congeals as a whole (for example, the eerie Eyes Wide Shut piano of "The Old Horizon" would fit better on one of Molina's solo albums), but with songs as good as "Lonesome Valley"--Molina's most melodic tune to date--it's a definite grower. Just think of it as a mix tape from your favorite Bellevue patient.