Tony Molina ostensibly writes pop songs the same way that most other songwriters do. His songs generally include an intro, a couple of verses, a chorus or two, a bridge, an outro, maybe even a solo. The primary difference is that his songs are over a lot sooner. A lot sooner. Molina, to date, hasn’t released any records that wouldn’t fit on a single side of vinyl, or for that matter, two sides of a seven-inch that plays at 45 RPM. On the surface, maybe that sounds unsatisfying or incomplete. And that’s where he differs from other songwriters: Molina packs more musical richness into 80 seconds than most bands can in five minutes. And that’s not an easy thing to do. Not by a longshot.
Kill the Lights, Molina’s second full-length and follow up to 2016’s Confront the Truth EP (though it’s hard to make the distinction between an EP an album here), is considerably different than his highly buzzed-about debut Dissed and Dismissed, primarily because of how subdued it is rather than how long it is (past the 12-minute mark, which is longer but still pretty short). Where before Molina kept the fuzz pedal pressed down throughout 10 loud but infectious power pop tracks, here he’s mostly playing with no overdrive to speak of, and frequently unplugs entirely. Suffice it to say these are some of the prettiest songs he’s released, not to mention some of the best.
Leadoff track “Nothing I Can Say” is simply gorgeous jangle-pop in the vein of Big Star or The Byrds, or even early R.E.M., with gorgeous layers of 12-string riffs and utterly mesmerizing vocal harmonization. Before the one-minute mark, he indulges in a guitar solo that’s less showy than a spectacular cap on an already great start, and it’s over before ever getting close to wearing out its welcome. Yet it’s still memorable, which seems like some kind of small miracle. Even more miraculous is the nearly two and a half minutes of “Look Inside Your Mind/Losin’ Touch,” a pocket-sized epic that channels George Harrison’s late-era Beatles compositions gorgeously and with an arrangement that’s only marginally more expansive than the other full-band tracks here, even though it sounds like a million bucks, figuratively and sort of literally. But as great as everything sounds, Molina’s emotional state is a damaged one. He’s heartbroken, he’s wounded, and all it takes is a look at the track titles (“Now That She’s Gone,” “When She Leaves”) to know the source of the ache. If he’s doomed to be lonesome, however, he can at least sing his way through the grief, and he does so stunningly.
With Kill the Lights, Tony Molina doesn’t change the thing that makes his songs unique, nor what makes his songs so good for that matter. Rather, it’s an effort to reveal a different side of them, sometimes revealing their most barest elements and at other times adding new layers on top of them. They rarely need much to sound great, but when Molina goes for broke, he finds new avenues for expansion and growth, all without wasting precious vinyl real estate.
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.