Eerie, haunting posthumous release from tragically lost multi-instrumentalist
Seven years after Ohio-born lo-fi indie rock legend Jason Molina’s premature death, Secretly Canadian has released a posthumous collection of unfinished songs from 2008 under Molina’s title, Eight Gates. These nine tracks are not only haunting and emotionally taxing, but they also serve as a musical eulogy for Molina, an artist lost tragically too soon.
Having released hundreds of songs under various monikers, most notably Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., Molina built an impressive catalogue before dying of complications from his career-long battle with alcoholism. He was 39.
Eight Gates was recorded in London at a time when Molina was in poor health, citing a poisonous spider bite as the force driving him into isolation, although the details surrounding this incident are shady at best and it’s entirely possible Molina withdrew from the public eye entirely of his own freewill. Either way, the songs on Eight Gates perfectly encompass this specific period of loneliness and desperation in Molina’s life.
Opening with bird sounds, a reference to the green parrots Molina would feed that were rumored to be descendants of Jimi Hendrix’s pets, “Whisper Away” drones in with melancholy acoustic guitar. His ghostly tenor cries out, “Whisper away your last smile/ What’s real is I have no wish.” The unabashed self-awareness of Molina’s lyrics is not lost on this record.
“Shadow Answers the Wall” is the only track to feature a full traditional band, kicking off with a strong and united rhythm section. Other tracks, like “The Mission’s End” and “She Says,” rely on deep acoustic guitar tones while some incorporate brief string sections to reinforce the mourning tone, such as “Be Told the Truth” and the organ of “Thistle Blue.”
Songs like “Fire on the Rail,” in which the entire first half is sung acapella, and “Old Worry,” in which the acoustic guitar work is stretched to the absolute limit, prove Molina was a master instrumentalist. With such strong lyricism and imagery, it can be easy to forget Molina’s greatest gift was songwriting as a whole independent art form.
Closer “The Crossroad + the Emptiness” is utterly perfect for concluding Eight Gates. It opens with Molina snapping at the engineer before singing about December 30th, his birthday. “Though given one, I have no wish,” Molina wails, calling back to the album’s opener.
It’s this self-consciousness that makes Eight Gates such a difficult, gut-wrenching listen. The album is drenched in gloom and doom, but it’s the sense that Molina was aware of how much worse things would get that puts a lump in listeners’ throats. On “She Says,” Molina is matter-of-fact as he states, “The last full moon of the saddest year/ No the saddest will come.” Molina knew on some level, and listening to him sing this foreboding warning to himself for 25 minutes is absolutely soul-crushing.
Molina’s loss is devastating and although his art remains, it’s impossible not to wonder what he could have done with more time. Eight Gates, the title a reference to the London Wall’s seven gates and one extra being one specifically carved out for Molina, is a true gift. In a lot of ways, it feels like that eighth gate. It’s an album, the last album, that solidifies a place for Molina and his legacy.