Pyramid Electric Co.
ho hasn’t found themselves in the jaws of desolation? Who hasn’t been engulfed by a dark shadow of loneliness? Through fatigued and weathered breath often comes the most honest and innermost self-revelations. Even so, numerous rocks stars have proven that music is not entirely cathartic and that suicide is sometimes the only option. If Jason Molina decides to pull a Nick Drake, Pyramid Electric Co. will turn out to be his Pink Moon.
Molina, the voice behind the ever-changing Songs: Ohia, is our era's Neil Young. Pregnant with images of dusty men and women, blue-collar workers spitting bloody teeth from their mouth while staring at the Chicago moon, Molina's self-confessed "long dark blues" are just that: nearly humorless, somber tales detailing, most notably, change. Last year's Magnolia Electric Co. was rife with the theme, the only difference being the music to sing it by. In terms of music, Pyramid Electric Co. is the anti-Magnolia, a slow, creeping, wrist-eyeing work which finds Molina eschewing bombast for desperate restraint and melody for some of the most maudlin, poetic lyrics of Molina's career.
Released only on vinyl but containing a secret compact disc version inside the sleeve, Pyramid Electric Co. will win Molina no new fans. Even the most dedicated Ohiaites will find it difficult to trudge through the desolate, panging stabs of Molina’s oddly-tuned guitar and quavering, broken vocals on the eight minute eponymous opener. Picture a mine-shaft. Now picture a man in the darkest region of its caverns with an electric guitar, a voice and a song as desolate as the surroundings. Near the end of the track, the structure fades away into a single electric guitar note, picked every few moments over Molina repeating the lyric “dark repetition,” in a hollow whisper. If one was to push-off this coil of mortals, that was the moment, but if your razor missed the large artery, or if your big toe is having a hard time pressing down on the double-barrel’s trigger, fret not, there are still thirty minutes left of moments nearly as appropriate.
Writing alone in the studio late into the night, no doubt with a pack of luckies and a bottle as company, Molina conceived Pyramid, and through puffy eyes recorded it in the morning with engineer Mike Mogis who worked with him on the 2000’s Ghost Tropic. Perfectly capturing the sparseness, yet not giving into unlistenable lo-fidelity, Mogis lets Molina’s voice and guitar perfectly accentuate each other by not giving preference to one or the other. On the wonderfully titled “Honey, Watch Your Ass,” Molina sings an epic monologue, giving an unnamed woman who “smells like a train / hauling lilacs through the rain,” lessons in cynicism: “I’m finally showing her the switch / How I learned to hold it / In my teeth / How she’s got to keep / One razor sharp bloody piece / Of her old broken heart / How she’s got to use that edge to carve / Across her new heart / Something deep enough to hurt / So it always reminds her / Deep enough to last / Darling, honey, watch your ass.” On “Division St. Girl,” possibly this same woman, who Molina is watching, reading her “slangy lips,” calls out to him tauntingly, “Hey sucker are you lonely?” Molina answers her question at the end of the song, comparing his loneliness with a soldier on the enemy’s turf who finds out that even they have left him “with nothing when they split / Except the cold and the quiet / And the blues to sing about it.”
Lyrically, Pyramid finds Molina at his most heartbroken since Axxess & Ace. If the protagonist in “Division St. Girl” represents the unattainable and the woman in “Honey, Watch Your Ass” the unsavable, the figure in the beautiful “Long Desert Train” represents Molina himself. As he sings “There are things you can’t change / There are things no one can” to the nameless and sexless figure, the listener gets the impression that his advice is just as much to himself. Pyramid is not Songs: Ohia but the musical equivalent of A Season In Hell, not something one can take in often, but which is beautiful for the fact that it was completed at all. Molina may never find fulfillment, whether it be through a woman or a location or himself, but through his music we can hear him trying, and I’ve never been one to blame a person for that.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK - JANUARY 18 - 24, 2004
Reviewed by: Gentry Boeckel
Reviewed on: 2004-01-19