Jason Molina: Eight Gates review – An intimate and faintly epic wonder
Around 2006/07, Jason Molina moved from the US midwest to London, tilting himself towards an adventure that would become the material for this record, which exists in a liminal space between the living and the dead – wrapped up in his lived experiences, but equally his premature passing in 2013 at 39.
The title Eight Gates speaks to Molina’s playful sense of bending narratives towards his singularity. Upon finding out about the London Wall’s seven gates, he created an eighth for himself, a creative gateway. That gateway was already evident through his incarnations in Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co, numerous collaborations (with Will Oldham and Alasdair Roberts, among others), and more than 16 studio albums, and eight EPs.
Prolific and restless as he was, Molina’s voice has always returned him to us, and to his central vision, which is pleasingly distilled on this album. Although not even half an hour long, Eight Gates manages to be both intimate and faintly epic. Bird song weaves throughout, specifically that of parrots – field recordings from those that gathered in Molina’s yard. The sound of the parrots singing links to something poet Simon Armitage once wrote of birds: “What we find in them we would hope for our work – that sense of soaring otherness.”
Otherness is tightly sewn into Eight Gates – from Whisper Away’s discordant drone, and wobbly vocal amid warm but reserved guitar, to Shadow Answers the Wall, with its grunge-garage atmosphere. While much of the record is pared back, The Mission’s End, with its intricate chords, and lyrics like “built it all against tears, built it all against the smallest fears”, strikes to the core of Molina’s anxiety, as does Old Worry – as he calls out “my God”, is it exclamation or resignation? Meanwhile, She Says is all subtlety, but Molina’s voice is never better than on Fire on the Rail, with its images of open prairies, cut through with brooding guitar that casts a Lynchian edit.
The warmth behind Be Told the Truth tries to create shape out of the chaos, and Thistle Blue recalls 2000’s The Lioness, with its dark drone vibrations, but The Crossroad + the Emptiness is all vulnerability, as Molina remembers a birthday, and “the dread as you reread my poems”. The song drifts away, as we all will; it is a fitting end.
Molina will not experience the release of this record, nor will he see and feel how much his work continues to speak to so many (there have been a number of tribute albums since he passed). He spoke to obscenities he had faced with such truth that he has become a kind of beacon – there is some comfort in that.