Connect the dots

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Despite the unfortunate cliché of the protest-happy folkie, the hallmark of a truly great singer-songwriter is not the ability to make us stop and think. It’s the ability to make us feel. For example, Bob Dylan’s aversion to cannon fire doesn’t move us. That sentiment alone is too obvious. Rather, it is the chilling ambiguity of his anti-war solution. The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.

And so it is with Jason Molina, a songwriter who thrives on using such ambiguity to push our most guarded buttons. Molina – who essentially is Songs: Ohia – paints lyrics in broad strokes that imply scenes and stories, but do not fully create them. Like an abstract painter with a wounded heart, Molina outlines his emptiness without specific detail. The listener must apply his or her own pathos – no matter how painful – to complete the picture.

With The Lioness, Molina has mastered this deceptively difficult approach. Building upon his excellent earlier work, Songs: Ohia’s fourth full-length release revels in the glorious sin of omission. "I’m getting weaker / I’m getting thin / I hate how obvious I have been," the opening track warns.

Indeed, the album’s threadbare production seems to also be missing something significant. Organ and drums make occasional appearances, but most tracks are just Molina’s fragile voice and a lone electric guitar. The effect is at once understated and overwhelming – like entering a room where a favorite painting has been secretly removed from the wall. Something important to you is gone, but you can’t yet say what.

In today’s cold climate of digital minimalism, Songs: Ohia’s emotional interactivity draws us in like good radio drama once did. But Molina’s approach is also modernist. Eschewing the garish decoration that most contemporary singer-songwriters rely upon, Songs: Ohia lets the form truly follow function.

So, hello, Jackson Pollock. Goodbye, Jackson Browne. The time’s are once again a-changing.

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