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Saturday, November 1, 2014 
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Magnolia Electric Company
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Trials And Errors
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I've never been a big fan of live albums. Maybe it's because I'm usually just not that interested in live versions of a bunch of songs I've listened to over and over in their studio incarnations. Occasionally, though, a great album gets released that just happens to have been recorded live.

Neil Young's Time Fades Away, consisting of previously unreleased songs Young recorded live during his 1972-73 post-Harvest tour, stands as one of his best albums, up there with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, Tonight's the Night and Ragged Glory. It's rough and raw and wonderful.

Originally released on vinyl in 1974, Time Fades Away has been out of print for years, and never officially released on CD. But recently bootleg CDs have been showing up in certain independently-owned record stores, and although I had a copy a friend dubbed for me (I somehow lost my vinyl copy at the end of the '70s), when I recently bought one of the bootlegs it triggered several obsessive weeks of listening to almost nothing but Time Fades Away.

It's not by chance that I've begun a review of Jason Molina's Trials and Errors by talking about Time Fades Away. Neil Young's shadow looms over many of Molina's recordings; Young is such a strong influence that it's almost as if he and Molina were family. Molina even breaks into fragments of "Tonight's the Night" during "The Big Beast," and "Out on the Weekend" during "Almost Was Good Enough."

Trials and Errors, a live album Molina and his band recorded one night in Brussels during 2003, is a devastating collection of Molina's songs that I've been coming back to again and again since getting a copy at the beginning of the year. It's the perfect companion piece to Time Fades Away, and taken together, these two persuasively make the case for live albums.

Molina first began recording solo as Songs: Ohia in 1997; Songs: Ohia was released that year. More recently, last year in fact, he recorded an album, Pyramid Electric Co., under his own name. But with Trials and Errors and the studio album, What Comes After the Blues, that followed it a few months ago, he's now working with a band and using the Magnolia Electric Company name. When this album was recorded, the lineup (since changed somewhat) consisted of Pete Schreiner (Panoply Academy, Coke Dares) on drums, Mike Kapinus (Okkervil River) on bass and trumpet, Jason Groth (Impossible Shapes, John Wilkes Booze, Coke Dares) on guitar, and Molina on guitar and vocals. And whatever Molina wants to put on the album covers, what's in the grooves is heartfelt, brutally honest rock.

The Bush administration was solidly in control when this album was recorded, and the Iraq war was in high gear. Dark days — and Molina's music and lyrics are like a soundtrack to those days that works just fine right now too. Molina's songs are personal — real personal. He opens the album with "The Dark Don't Hide It," a first-person narrative that finds him singing directly to an ex-lover. "You said you only wanted friends long enough to get rid of them," goes one representative line. It's kind of Molina's "Like a Rolling Stone."

"Such Pretty Eyes for a Snake" finds Molina tempted by a girl with the eyes in question. "If I come upstairs with you/ I'll be just in time/ To be part of something I'll regret my whole life," he sings; then, a verse later: "I guess if I do come upstairs with you/ It wouldn't be the first time I made a mistake in my life."

And so it goes, through 10 songs, the shortest of which ("Don't This Look Like the Dark") is five minutes and 50 seconds long, while the longest (the epic "Almost Was Good Enough") clocks in at just over nine minutes.

Most of the music here — across the entire album — is a raw, Crazy Horse-like cacophony of bass, drums and two bleeding electric guitars. The music rises and falls like a rider hanging onto a bucking bronco.

What I love about Trials and Errors is that Molina and his band create an ominous, furious rock 'n' roll sound that rages from song to song as if this was a connected suite, rather than a bunch of separate songs. And over this sound he tells us the story of his life — or at least some stories from his life — and hearing of his trials (and errors), we can reflect on our own lives.

Oh yeah — in addition, this is simply some of the best guitar-driven rock I've heard all year.


by Michael Goldberg




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