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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