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. Its the ability to make us feel. For example, Bob Dylans aversion to cannon fire doesnt 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: Ohias fourth full-length release revels in the glorious sin of omission. "Im getting weaker / Im getting thin / I hate how obvious I have been," the opening track warns.
Indeed, the albums threadbare production seems to also be missing something significant. Organ and drums make occasional appearances, but most tracks are just Molinas 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 cant yet say what.
In todays cold climate of digital minimalism, Songs: Ohias emotional interactivity draws us in like good radio drama once did. But Molinas 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 times are once again a-changing.