Within the private rooms of Jason Molina’s past Songs:Ohia albums, listeners have often found themselves bound to the dramatic confessions of an acute musician and theatrical craftsman. The Lioness, last year’s album, exposed such haunting melodies: The grave instrumentation was devastating when stripped bare by Molina’s characteristically stark, wavering voice. Each song was inevitably a gift of generous honesty and vulnerability. And if confession was the tone that made that album seem so intimate, then Molina’s newest, Ghost Tropic (to be released on Nov. 23), is more like a follow-up of musical repentance and sacrifice.
Working with Ali Roberts and members of the band Lullaby for the Working Class, Molina has recorded a thick, atmospheric album. Each song feels distinctly incensed with ritualistic melody and rhythm. Ancient worldly waltzes move in front of the slow — almost still — tilt of his voice. The sad cycle of electric guitar moans and synthesized organ groans is not found in this record — it has been replaced with a wide variety of spicy instruments. In “The Body Burned Away,” old Eastern European dance traditions are brought to life with the loose strum of a guitar, the swish of maracas and the subtle bell of finger-cymbals. And in the title track, there’s no need for a true sense of rhythm when there is nature’s symphony of a wet forest in the tropics, the echo of birds lofting through treetops.
But don’t misunderstand these lush landscapes: Ghost Tropic’s weighty musical movement is still carried by empty space. This looming music is profound — emotionally tolerable in the first place — because we will always long for that which is absent. We want to locate the roaming melody and distill the lyrical ambiguity. Thankfully, in Ghost Tropic, this vacancy has become a more full-bodied, meditative calling.