Magnolia Electric Co.
It's Made Me Cry EP
(Secretly Canadian; 2009)
By Peter Hepburn | 24 April 2009
Improbably enough, It’s Made Me Cry represents the first new music from Jason Molina and Magnolia Electric Co. since 2006. Over the decade prior to ’06 he had kept up a steady album or more per year average, yet since then his only release has been the hefty Sojourner (2007) box, which collected the sessions that went into making Fading Trails (2006). Three years is a long time when it comes to an artist as prolific as Molina; if Bob Pollard pulled this sort of hiatus he would be presumed dead.
So what do we get for our patience? Four songs spanning just over six minutes. Considering that this is a guy who has hundreds of songs he’s never officially released (and who has talked about annually burning his homemade tapes), it doesn’t seem too much to expect that he’d be able to fill both sides of a 7”. Still, once the disappointment of getting so little passes there is something heartening about hearing Molina rein himself in so tightly. This instinct to strip away excess was apparent on Fading Trails, but he displays a new level of parsimony here. None of the songs with lyrics make it to the two-minute mark; he’s still an evocative lyricist, he just seems determined to work with less. Stray Molina signifiers abound, but they don’t have that rote feel that some of the MEC material can take on.
Side A was recorded last fall, and the most noticeable musical change is in the prominence of piano on all three of the tracks. “It’s Made Me Cry,” far and away the best of the bunch, crackles with a fresh energy and drive, the piano pulsing along and expanding out on the beat of the drum. The entire song consists of just three three-line verses, and I can’t think of another song in Molina’s repertoire that covers so much ground so quickly. “Rock of Ages” feels like it could be vintage Songs: Ohia, swaddling the vocals with reverb and running the track through with full-bodied guitar, while keys quietly follow along. “The Compass, The Candle, The Bell” is hushed and simple, with drum and piano cradling Molina’s multi-tracked vocals.
Side B consists solely of “Protection Spell,” formerly known as “Moscow,” recorded a year prior to the first three songs. It’s an inconsequential but pretty instrumental track, anchored around the late Evan Farrell’s simple repeating bass line, building to a crescendo of strings and strident guitar strums.
And…that’s it. Notably, It’s Made Me Cry will be released on May 19th in digital form (the vinyl was a Record Store Day exclusive, limited to 1000 copies) with all proceeds going to the Evan Farrell Memorial Fund. So, despite not being a particularly significant release—I doubt that a year from now I’ll be looking back on this as some sort of turning point for the band, even if it does build on the stripped-down approach they were going for on Fading Trails—it is worth buying for more than just the opportunity, finally, to hear some new Jason Molina songs. It also whets our collective palette for more to come—like the new LP Josephine, and collaborative releases with both Will Johnson (Centro-matic) and visual artist William Schaff. There’s not a lot of actual music here, but still: it’s a good way to spend six minutes, a great cause, and a welcome reminder of why three years is too long for Molina to be away.