2020 – Rock / Folk
The last and posthumous album by American singer Jason Molina, Eight Gates, is full of songs that carry good intentions, however, the feeling of being unfinished speaks louder.
Throughout his career, Jason Molina always presented tracks that seemed unfinished, however, that managed to convey a sense of veracity. In his works—both as a solo artist or as a member of his projects, Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co.—he always sang sad and melancholy lyrics while moving between rock, blues and alternative, accompanied, most of the time, by a guitar, studio jokes and comments from his friends. In all of these cases, Molina’s songs seemed unfinished, however, still, they had a complete essence full of energy that only he could transmit. It was almost as if you were in a domed house but still felt at home. However, this feeling, which has always been something positive, does not arrive well on Eight Gates, the postural album and the last work of the American singer, creating a sensation that everything is only in the drafts.
Written and recorded in 2008 and 2009 in London, Eight Gates arrives seven years after Molina’s tragic death—he was dealing with alcoholism problems when he had multiple organ bankruptcy in 2013. According to him, he was recovering from a spider bite when he started working on these songs that were kept in a drawer for more than a decade. At the time, there were assumptions that he was delusional due to the fact that he was writing about doctors and medicines that didn’t even exist. After that, claiming health problems that were not revealed, he canceled his tour in late 2009 and never played in public again. The following years were a struggle for Molina, as he was facing intense problems with alcoholism that led to his death four years after the recordings in London. In this way, Eight Gates emerges as Jason’s final testament and tries to bring everything that made him who he was, however, it is unable to accomplish this feat very well.
Just like what happened in other Jason Molina works, Eight Gates brings something rawer and more unfinished, a true raw material of the singer’s songs. However, the tracks here do not bring that feeling of something purposeful that managed to keep the essence that Molina used to tell, on the contrary, the songs here really seem unfinished. Of course, we have to take into account the situation—Jason died before he could finish the songs completely—but still, the tracks seem very raw to the point that they seem to be in the first stage of production. Sometimes it even seems that the label cut out parts of some songs and decided not to mix the tracks before releasing them. Take as an example the song “She Says,” which starts after a few studio comments and lasts only a few seconds with Molina singing, next to just a guitar, about a woman who feels like a problem. You really feel that something is missing there, but in the end, you cannot tell if it is intentional or not.
Unfortunately, this is not something isolated from some tracks, but something that ends up reaching all the songs on Eight Gates. In some cases, this is not so intense and works as an element that gives a certain intimacy, but in others, it is so strong that it ends up making the track seem like a primary idea. One of the best examples of this is the last song on the album, “The Crossroad and the Emptiness,” which delivers a lukewarm guitar and a lyrics that, although you understand what it means, is short and very basic. Also, it is one of the worst choices for closing the album just because it doesn’t feel like goodbye. In this way, even tracks that have the same sound aesthetic, like “The Mission’s End,” would close everything in a better way. On the other hand, we have “Whisper Away,” which, even with the sounds of birds and more tragic instrumentals, is a very monotone track and it takes a long time to happen, becoming a not so good option to open the album. In short, neither the beginning nor the end of the albums is exciting.
Furthermore, this feeling that something is missing arrives in Molina’s lyrics that often seem to require prior knowledge that we don’t know and which we were not introduced to. Just like “She Says” which seems just a momentary idea that Molina had, “Fire On the Rail” appears with a short, tight verse that is played twice, but each time over a slightly different sound. In the first, Molina appears alone speaking, “Dawn, who have we failed?/My promises/Not my promises,” in the second, next to atmospheric string chords, he ends with the same words. While the other tracks appear to be shortened, this one appeared to be stretched. In the same way, nourished by repetitions and a dramatic and melancholy cello, “Old Worry” delivers only a few stray lines that seem to paint disconnected scenes. The lyrics are something that really left something to be desired
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all the tracks here are really bad. One of the best moments of the album is “The Mission’s End” which, despite the simplicity of painting Molina just beside the guitar singing a short lyrics, works very well as a metaphor for death that ended up even more beautiful with his vocals. “Shadow Answers the Wall,” on the other hand, has percussion instruments that sound very enjoyable and create this very entertaining rhythm while Molina sings, “If I had never believed/And let everything come into place/Would the stars be looking down.” Finally, while “Be Told the Truth” stands out for its sad mix of string notes, synthesizers and a cello, “Thistle Blue” appears with a slightly more interesting lyrics alongside a church organ that creates a more well-made atmosphere for the song. He sings, “Whose wilderness has my heartbreak wandered through?/Whose questions have I left to go unanswered?” After all, it’s not that these songs are bad, they just seem too raw to be Molina’s final tribute.