What’s in a name? Not much says loner/ songwriter extraordinaire, Jason Molina a.k.a. Songs: Ohia. The indie music landscape is more about the music than a perfectly marketable band name and image (just ask the successful but dreadfully named indie jam outfit, The Disco Biscuits).
Molina’s Ohia is the umpteenth brand name for his musical output, which he is on the verge of re-titling yet again.
“In the independent record-making world, I can make these decisions and not have to hear 30 execs crying over it,” Molina said. “I never wanted to put anything out under a steady name.”
The most recent release of Molina’s Ohia collective — Molina picks a few musicians he likes from various shows and asks them to record with him — was this year’s magnificent opus, Magnolia Electric Co. It is Molina’s 10th full-length record, but that’s not even the most interesting non-music point of the record. Molina has, as of this national tour, ditched the name Songs: Ohia in favor of the album’s Magnolia moniker.
“So much of the material I had done under the Songs: Ohia name, I haven’t even touched in years,” Molina said. “I’m more interested in newer songs and musicians (to play them) for the new band and material. Sometimes you get even stronger performers going for people you don’t know at all. The person could be a great player, but could be an a– to work with as well. But so far, in our shows as the Magnolia Electric Co., more people have shown up then in the past.”
If there ever was an album good enough to rename your band after, Magnolia Electric Co. is it. Magnolia is eight songs of near rock ‘n’ roll perfection, and the best indie-rock album of the year so far.
Yes, the White Stripes and their critic pals should grovel in awe.
The leadoff tune, “Farewell Transmission,” is emotive lyrical narration and epic guitar work at its best. The lyrical workman’s warble Molina puts forth on this tune — “After tonight if you don’t want this to be/ A secret out of the past/ I will resurrect it/ I’ll have a good go at it/ I’ll streak his blood across my veins” — sets the tone for an album full of eerily descriptive lyrical decrees.
The record is filled with gems from start to finish. “Just Be Simple” is a slow-roasted masterpiece equipped with ghostly guitar-twang and sharp lines like: “If heaven’s really coming back/ I hope it has a heart attack.” And there isn’t a more complete song than “John Henry Split My Heart,” with Molina’s brooding vocals and hammering guitar chords, to spin on anyone’s turntable this year.
With songs this intricate, the setlist for this tour would normally require hours upon hours of perfecting every single symbol pang. Not on planet Molina, though.
The Ohia/ Magnolia frontman sees each performance as not only a chance for innovation, but also an original showcase for his crowd on any given night. And that is a gift from performer to fan that is too special to even attempt to name … or rename.
“The hour or so I’m onstage I want to make as unique as possible without making it a freak show,” Molina said. “That is, unless a fuzzy bunny costume shows up tailor-made for me. Now that would be hard to turn down. I like playing weird or different arrangements of my songs each night. Overall, people reflect on those kinds of shows as truly unique, because those one or two songs that no one has ever heard are what last the most.”