Plumbiferous Media

Molina and Johnson – Molina and Johnson

Nov 5th 2009
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Molina and Johnson - Molina and JohnsonMolina and Johnson
Molina and Johnson
Score: 38

Jason Molina, lead singer of down-tempo, occasionally lo-fi indie-folk band Magnolia Electric Co. has teamed up with Centro-matic lead Will Johnson to create a full-length collaboration. Both musicians bring significant musicality, experience, and technical proficiency, and it is easy to imagine the two working together quite well. But while the two would seem a promising combination, unfortunately, the album is about as creative as its name, Molina and Johnson.

The instrumentals on Molina and Johnson are, for the most part, nothing short of forgettable. The very, very simple instrumental parts occasionally become decently interesting, such as on “Don’t Take My Night from Me,” where the guitar completely changes the tone of the album, or with the fittingly meandering keyboard part of “For as Long as It Will Matter.” However, for the most part, the instrumental lines remain nothing more than a series of relatively uncreative chords, occasional mimicry of used melodic strains, and quiet subservience under the vocals. The magnitude of this effect is great enough that it is relatively clear that if some semblance of instrumentals were not required for this specific genre of music, the album would have none.

Equally boring is the general lack of structural diversity between tracks. Those that do not follow the pattern of instrumentals accompanying voice, alternating with purely instrumental sections that attempt to make up for the lack of vocals will, say, simply replace the second section with instrumentals accompanying a second voice, as is the case on “All Gone, All Gone.” “All Gone, All Gone” also happens to be one of the more experimental tracks on the album, as is indicated by an incredibly irritating effect used through the track that can be best imitated by playing lightly with one’s headphone or speaker connections. Overall, Molina and Johnson has very little to offer musically.

Molina and Johnson begins well with “Twenty Cycles to the Ground,” led by Will Johnson’s plaintive voice, complemented by Jason Molina’s rich, country-twanged vocals. The album alternates between such cooperation and tracks led by one of the two. Johnson and Molina are well matched – their vocal harmony on tracks such as “Twenty Cycles” works very well. However, regrettable and occasionally irritating vocal effects and affectations on many tracks leave the vocals much less compelling than they could have been. Additionally, certain vocal sections seem slightly over-stretched or perhaps over-enunciated, and occasionally (as with Molina’s last album with his main project, Magnolia Electric Co.) individual tracks lack vocal variation within themselves. While there are some laudable vocal sections of Molina and Johnson (mostly the opening portion of “Twenty Cycles”), most of the album leaves something to be desired.

Molina and Johnson is composed of the same vivid imagery so eloquently constructed in the music both of Molina’s Magnolia Electric Co. and Johnson’s Centro-matic. The downtempo aesthetic of the album is combined with lyrics which range between reminiscent and melancholy, unsurprising from Molina and Johnson, both of whom have had much experience with such themes thanks to their ties to folk and indie music. Fortunately, Molina and Johnson manage to avoid cliché, instead writing generally thought-provoking lyrics. As Johnson sings of the “Shepherd girl of the afterworld” on “34 Blues,” it’s difficult not to feel at least a little of the almost desolate imagery he’s creating. At the same time, however, a lacking instrumental backdrop prevents the lyrics from being truly heard, and so what is perhaps the best part of the album is pushed too far back.

Molina and Johnson could have been a good example of the possibility of collaborations between established musicians. However, a number of significant flaws prevents it from being anything more than mediocre. Vocal missteps and instrumental banality plague the album, and intriguing lyrics are pushed nearly out of sight by a general lack of variation. Molina and Johnson has its strong points, but they’re not easy to find among the issues. At the end, Molina and Johnson can’t quite stand up to the solo work of either Molina or Johnson – a clear disappointment from two talented artists.

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