Review Summary: “I want my last look to be the moon in your eyes”
It’s raining and I’m tired. The last chill of winter is coming to a close and despite it being 21:10 there is still an ounce of light coming from outside preventing this room from being the perfect setting for The Lioness. However, as previously mentioned, I’m tired. This album will probably fall outside of my rotation as summer comes nearer which in turn means that there won’t be many more opportunities to listen to this. I press play. I wait. The first note of ‘The Black Crow’ comes through, and I am entranced.
The Lioness is Jason Molina’s fifth album under the moniker Songs: Ohia. By the time an artist gets to five albums, you expect them to have mastered the sound in which they conceive. At that stage in your career you have few options to keep from sounding aged and tedious; to explore a new direction or to perfect an old one. If you’re smart, like Molina is, you can find a way to dabble in the two of these options. He had found a way to keep the album on course with the singer/songwriter acoustics found on previous Songs:Ohia releases, but he had also widened his boundaries. In reality, The Lioness is what you’d expect five albums in, it has the bravery and the polish that comes with time (only 3 years, to be fair). Don’t be afraid though, the roots are still very much stuck in place. Molina still makes use of his emotive vocals, his metaphorical lyricism. Oh, and he also makes good use of Arab Strap.
The pained melancholic delivery of Molina is one of his defining characteristics. His ability to progress between styles is something very rare. He perfects his soft-tickling vocals, often easing the listener into the song. He’s then able to flawlessly unveil the raspy cry’s, which brings out the emotional tension that the slower verses hint at. Tension is something found on this album regularly, it feels as if every song is going to build up towards a chaotic finale but always holds out to opt for a more calm and condensed sound. This exploration is both successful and not. On one hand, you’re interested in seeing where the album is going to explore, where the climax will come – On the other, there’s no better highlights on the album then when Molina decides to raise his volume.
In terms of lyrical content the album borders on sounding too personal, yet succeeds in narrowly avoiding this – delving into the mind of a depressed alcoholic has never been more brutally beautiful. This blunt beauty is prevalent throughout the entire album through Molina’s lyricism, an example being on the song “The Black Crow” where he screams the lines “It’s Fading” wrapped inside a morbidly draining crescendo. The album is very much based on a lost love, which is something that has been explored to death in music. However, we all have them nights of necessary self-pity and we all need soundtracks. There are few albums written so brilliantly about this very discussion point.
The album doesn’t really pick up joy at any parts; it conveys pure emotion in the best of ways. A notable example of this is on ‘The Lioness’, the lyrics on the song are borderline poetry and the song itself is amongst the rawest and emotionally exhausting that I have ever heard. It wouldn’t be out of place if at any point on the album Molina broke away from singing to break down on record. It’s very sparse throughout, and even between the slight crescendos that might appear it is an incredibly hollow album. The instrumentation is provided by ‘Arab Strap’ which leads you to assume that there will be an element of slowcore towards it, and you’d be right. The guitars are often left without distortion or effects, the drums are very basic and ride within the background for the most part. This all adds to the general emptiness of the albums sound, keeping it from being overdramatic.
If there are flaws within this album, which there are, they are very tiny and easily overlooked. For example, despite there being no remotely bad songs on the album (In fact, every song is consistently good or better) there are moments of remoteness, of songs that fail to hold within the great capacity of the album. Songs like ‘Nervous Bride’ and ‘Back On Top’ fail to reach the heights that other songs here do, they’re far too good to skipped or removed but when placed around the best songs on the album (‘Coxcomb Red’ for example), they underwhelm.
This could be classified as Hyperbolic, and I wouldn’t blame anyway who tried to argue that but I’d say that Jason Molina is able to stand confidently within the crowd of the best Singer/ Songwriters to have written music. He had a genuine knack for writing poetry, every single album that he has worked on has an ounce of beauty too it and The Lioness is, in my opinion, his opus. It’s not every day that you are able to listen to an album that evokes the pain that this one does, and that should be reason enough to listen. It’s an album that only a genius could create, and Jason Molina was a genius.