Plumbiferous Media

Josephine - Magnolia Electric Co.

Jun 21st 2009
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Josephine - Magnolia Electric Co.Magnolia Electric Co.
Score: 83

Jason Moli­na has been record­ing music since 1996, when he began the group Songs: Ohia, with whom he released ten albums over sev­en years, all of which dis­played his par­tic­u­lar mix­ture of folk, coun­try, and rock. Fol­low­ing Songs: Ohia, Moli­na formed Mag­no­lia Elec­tric Co. with many of the same mem­bers and much the same musi­cal aes­thet­ic. His newest album with Mag­no­lia Elec­tric Co., Josephine (his six­teenth with label Secret­ly Cana­di­an), not only dis­plays the traits which he’s had so much time to mas­ter, but elo­quent­ly demon­strates this mastery.

Mag­no­lia Elec­tric Co. uses its instru­ments extreme­ly intel­li­gent­ly. The bass always pro­vides a very warm, soft sound per­fect­ly suit­ed to Mag­no­li­a’s style, and the drums are giv­en quite inter­est­ing lines that remain qui­et enough to avoid dis­tract­ing the lis­ten­er from the rest of the album. In gen­er­al the mix­ing is done extreme­ly well, one exam­ple being the blend­ing between gui­tar and piano on “The Rock of Ages” that occa­sion­al­ly even makes the two lines indis­cernible, if only for a moment. The album is also pleas­ant­ly diverse as far as instru­men­ta­tion goes - com­pare the spir­i­tu­al-influ­enced sound and chords of “Shenan­doah” to the mul­ti­ple, inter­act­ing coun­try gui­tar lines of the next track, “Whip-Poor-Will.”

Moli­na’s rich vocals, accen­tu­at­ed with the slight twang of his coun­try influ­ence, build engag­ing, emo­tion­al­ly invest­ed lines through­out Josephine. From the melan­choly and yet hope­ful begin­ning to the album with “O! Grace,” to the final, light track “An Arrow in the Gale,” his vocals fluc­tu­ate through a vari­ety of styles, all well done and cho­sen for the tracks they appear in. The slight­ly rough sounds of “Josephine” cre­ate a clear con­trast with the clean sound of, for exam­ple, “The Rock of Ages,” accen­tu­at­ed with a choir-like accom­pa­ni­ment which is mixed expert­ly into the track. It is, then, no sur­prise that the height of vocal excel­lence on Josephine is locat­ed at the begin­ning of “Hope Dies Last,” which fea­tures a har­mo­ny between Moli­na’s vocals at their absolute best and a sec­ond vocal line, cre­at­ing an amaz­ing coun­ter­point which serves to begin an excel­lent track. The only com­plaint about Moli­na’s vocals, then, giv­en their qual­i­ty and diver­si­ty across the album, is that they occa­sion­al­ly suf­fer from a lack of diver­si­ty with­in sin­gle tracks - though this is large­ly excusable.

Through­out Josephine, Mag­no­lia Elec­tric Co. exhibits its abil­i­ty to cre­at­ing pow­er­ful­ly emo­tive images through a mix­ture of metaphor and sub­lime metonymy. Moli­na’s impas­sioned cry “I lived so long with the shad­ows / Lord, I became one of them,” is expert­ly stir­ring, while the image drawn by the depic­tion of the singer as walk­ing “With my wings in one hand / And lead in the oth­er / From the cross­roads to the shore,” is not only arrest­ing­ly drawn but metaphor­i­cal­ly ele­gant. Josephine is filled with these sorts of sto­ries - each com­pelling on its own, and all togeth­er com­plet­ing a beau­ti­ful album.

Josephine pro­vides the lis­ten­er with many strong sec­tions, but Mag­no­lia Elec­tric Co. also enjoys severe­ly lim­it­ing the lis­ten­er’s expo­sure to the strongest sec­tions. “Josephine” both begins and ends with very strong­ly played chords that pro­vide a wel­come con­trast to the much lighter pre­ced­ing tracks, but the rest of the track reverts to at least as light a tone as that of “O! Grace,” even when the lyrics are per­fect­ly suit­ed to the heav­ier style. The first time this style is ful­ly main­tained through­out a track is on “The Hand­ing Down,” five tracks lat­er. In addi­tion, the amaz­ing vocals that intro­duce “Hope Dies Last” only them­selves last around forty sec­onds, even though they could eas­i­ly car­ry for sev­er­al tracks, or at least the entire­ty of “Hope Dies Last.” In the end, whether this actu­al­ly has a good or bad influ­ence on the album is debatable.

While Mag­no­lia Elec­tric Co. has record­ed some weak­er work in the past, Josephine is well done in every aspect. Mag­no­lia has clear­ly mas­tered its instru­men­tals as well as its over­all sound, and there is very lit­tle to crit­i­cize about the album, oth­er than not hav­ing enough of the tru­ly excel­lent ele­ments. Josephine has great instru­men­tals, vocals, and lyrics, and is over­all an excel­lent album.

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