Recently I wrote about Jason Molina’s first new Magnolia Electric Co. album in some time, Josephine. He’s followed it up in quick succession with a collaboration with Will Johnson, plainly titled Molina and Johnson, fourteen songs recorded in just ten days. Johnson, solo artist and frontman of Texas country rockers Centro-matic, described the process: “we wrote, co-wrote, workshopped, complimented, scrutinized, drank, invited friends to come play music, smoked, made lots of notes and drawings, drank a little more and shot the BB gun off the back porch when we just needed some time and space. In the throes of all this, our record was made in the late February sun”. Strange that such a fun-sounding time can produce something this stark and sad.
The album feels like the product of hazy late nights and dusty hallways: Southern noir that’s as much about the space between notes and words, a chill creeping in through the cracks in the walls. Take ‘All Gone, All Gone’ a mournful duet between Johnson and Sarah Jaffe, who sound like apparitions caught on tape, accompanied by brittle guitar and frankly creepy crying saw. ‘Almost Let You In’ is over before you’ve fully grasped it, barebones acoustic guitar and percussion, with piano sounding like it’s drifted in from another room and another time. It’s typical of many of the songs here; something in the night you can’t quite make out, the duo’s words and music more an evocation of a feeling than something fully realised and concrete. This raw, unadorned sound is a great showcase for the duo’s distinctive vocals, Johnson’s dusty drawl the compliment and contrast to the honeyed sadness of Molina.