When he called himself Songs:Ohia, Jason Molina was a sensitive, somber type. His rich, yet fragile baritone gave albums like The Lioness and Didn’t It Rain a quiet, late night confessional feel, similar to like-minded folksters as Damien Jurado and Will Oldham. But unlike Oldham, Molina didn’t gradually get quieter as time went by. He turned the motherfucker up. Trading in the faint whisper of Ohia for bombast and unfiltered distortion, Molina enlisted a few friends and started himself a new rock and roll band and called it the Magnolia Electric Co.
Some have compared Magnolia Electric Co. to Bob Seger. And though I get the comparison, it’s a hell of a lot better than Seger. Molina has plenty of time in his career to write a “Turn the Page” or “Like a Rock,” but in the meantime, a more fitting comparison for us to use would be Neil Young. Molina, like Young, has proven himself adept at playing both quiet acoustic songs and louder, more boisterous rock anthems. And on Trials and Errors he’s done a fine job of documenting that boisterousness in a live setting.
The funny thing about Trials and Errors is that until the first track, “The Dark Don’t Hide It,” ends, you’re convinced that it’s a studio effort. Sure, the guitars are a little raw. And sure, his voice is a little rugged. But hasn’t it always been that way, just not as loud? That’s what I thought, anyway. So when you hear the applause in the final fifteen seconds of the six-minute track, you’re left scratching your head, thinking, “Damn! This is the best sounding live album I’ve ever heard!”
That may not be true. There are some pretty nice sounding live records. And, certainly, there are some God-awfully lo-fi studio recordings, as well. But with Trials and Errors, Molina and his Co. (electricians they call themselves) create a formidable charge. And a nice sounding one at that. Tracks like the aforementioned “Dark,” “Don’t This Look Like the Dark” (guess they like darkness) and “Cross the Road” kick ass in this setting, creating a murky, yet vibrant atmosphere. And they rock. Let’s not forget that part.
Over time, the minor details captured in this live setting begin to reveal themselves: the ever-present touches of reverb, the occasional wrong note, the cheering fans. And yet, it merely adds to the enjoyment. Though many of these tracks go on well into the seven, eight and, sometimes, nine-minute mark, the intensity captured in the recording creates a more natural tension. It may not be the same as actually watching them, but hey, it’s a really close second.
Neil Young – Tonight’s the Night
Built to Spill – Live
Pavement – Wowee Zowee
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.