Released in 2002, this was arguably singer-songwriter Jason Molina’s last album under his most well known moniker, Songs:Ohia, as well as his best. Perhaps perversely, the entire album could be refined to the influence of one song, Neil Young’s incredible “On the Beach”. It is long, has sparsely scattered guitar riffs, almost lethargic drumming, and a crinkled voice at the centre. It most resembles blues, but Young’s childish voice counters any gruff masculinity that the genre entails, and instead offers a vulnerable meditation through lyrics and chords. Molina, who’s musical respect for Neil Young has been often cited, harvests this particular concept and from it creates an entire album.
To start, out of the album’s seven songs, only one is not around six minutes long, which emphasises how Molina is in no hurry to capture a moment, but instead to grasp an atmosphere. Indeed on the opening track “Didn’t it Rain” Molina turns to his band and tells them to play another chorus before finishing. Thus the tone throughout is a casual one, where the solo or the vocals may have easily been totally different on the next take. This in part may have been because of the legendary producer Steve Albini’s input (indeed the second song of the album is called “Steve Albini Blues”) who often focused on the informalities within the band and its music. Above all this casualness signifies that the objective of the album was not to perfect the song, but instead to frame the feeling, which is perhaps why the songs flow so easily into one another.
However, though the tone remains, the music differs throughout. The core of Songs:Ohia is guitar, drums, a female backing singer, and Molina’s clear breathy voice right at the centre. In the first half of the album a variety of instruments are added to this set such as the mandolin, cello, banjo as well as a yodelling backing singer, which reveals Molina’s country leanings, on “Steve Albini Blues”. In the second half, the album becomes closer to Young’s “On the Beach” as the echoing electric guitar becomes the focal point. This is most portrayed in the album’s best and longest track “Blue Factory Flame,” which relates a bleak industrial Detroit environment, and accumulates into the chilling chorus: “I am paralysed by the emptiness.” The two songs that lead after this song follow the same electric suit, and all share the same “Blue” in the title. The final song “Blue Chicago Moon” offers a strained almost climatic finale to the “Blue” triptych, and yet offers no relief from these blues, but instead the last eight seconds of silence on the album lets the loneliness linger on the listener.
Thus a heavy feeling of grief shadows the album’s music, and though we are made aware that the music is very personal, as Molina even addresses himself in the song “Cross the Road, Molina,” the lyrics are so cryptic and diverse to pin down a specific theme. Instead we observe a huge intensity, and as the song has a further chorus we are made to feel that we have somehow gone deeper into the song. Perhaps the most obvious notion of this intensity is the album title itself: “Didn’t It Rain,” where the musicians are so embedded in the personal depths of the song that they have totally closed themselves from the any recognition of the outside world.