Conducting the Light and The Dark

A Note on Jason Molina


Peter Gizzi

Jason Molina wrote music at the extremes of the body, about the body and its extremes. Nothing escaped what he touched and what touches us. Few singer-songwriters have gone this deep inside themselves in search of river gold and even fewer have brought the gold back and laid it before us. Molina was truly one of our finest craftsman whose project was touched by a visionary impulse. One look at the making-of documentary for the album Josephine bears this out as Molina composes on-site, in the studio, creating phenomenal lyrics and music right before our eyes, conducting the light and the dark into a proper relation.

It’s so good to have this re-release of The Lioness with its scorched-earth torch songs of love and glory and their attendant agonies. And now we also possess a whole new album of soulful, unreleased work entitled Love & Work; I think Molina said it best in an earlier song: “There is love and work and lover’s work.” The two LP set brings this exploration of the work of love into focus. Survival and endurance are the constant cries of the new songs as he sings: “There’s nothing left here for survivors, there is nothing left here but survivors”; or, “I will meet you where we survive.” His insoluble songs survive his tragic end. A Lutheran folk hymn—an embodiment of Molina’s abiding commitment to spiritual contact—gives the new album an apt ending, a redemptive song of praise which speaks to his whole project: a searching and searing journey that is played out with his sometimes angelic, always otherworldly vocal performance.

There is a gorgeous brooding in his work, a long slow wounded core. And there is an aching light that shines through and lifts us. The weave of dark and light creates a new tonal range delivered to us by Molina’s miracle of pitch. But even in thrall to that inimitable voice, I have to believe that he was a gifted writer first, because his lyrics are so inventive and true—that is to say they are always an honest rendering of the real. Each syllable earned. There is the constant element of restless surprise in his songs, which is why they can be listened to and listened to and always remain present, new, alive. His voice, his phrasings, his music, his words continue to wound, continue to soar.