Connect the dots

by

comment

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.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at letters@metrotimes.com.

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.