Possible-Best-Album-of-the-Year-Red-Alerts, unlike most red alerts, must come several months after the release that triggers the red alert. After all, it takes time to judge the true quality of record. Will an album that initially overwhelms you with rock bravado maintain its fiery bluster over time, or will it burn out before the smoke clears? Will an album making a weak start out of the gates continue its slide, or will it begin to percolate like a rich cup of coffee that gets magically sweeter after sitting in the pot for a few months? I cannot remember the last time I listened to Beck’s Sea Change, hailed by Rolling Stone as an “an impeccable album of truth and light from the end of love”. On the other hand, I’ve been happily listening to Neil Halstead’s Sleeping on Roads a lot lately, which I, myself, originally described as “an inexcusable piece of shit I will likely never listen to again by a mediocre artist blindly flailing into a solo career he neither deserves or appreciates.” But it’s really quite good.
Songs:Ohia’s new record, Magnolia Electric Company, has slowly revealed itself to be a great work of melancholy and faith. Until now, this band’s career, basically just Jason Molina with a rotating band of musicians, has been largely about a great atmosphere lost in a morass of similar, sleepy songs that all seemed to contain unsettling imagery of “moons”, ”blood”, “ghosts”, or “black crows”. This changed last year with the release of the haunting Didn’t It Rain. With their new album, featuring a full array of guest singers, plenty of pedal steel, and a prefect balance between shakers and ballads, they blossom. The music is amazing, both vintage and inventive. Songs like “Peoria Lunchbox Blues” hold striking lyrical turns close to their heart. “The constellations and Cominskey’s lights / Two old friends in the night / Who always knew they would if they could / Meet one last time in the old neighborhood” goes one. In the beautiful, reflective finale of the record Molina sings, “Hold on Magnolia to that great highway moon / No one has to be that strong.” Okay, so the “moon” thing is still there. But, otherwise, it seems if Songs:Ohia has musically reinvented itself to produce, at least, the best album of the year so far.
On a scale of alerts, where a Timex wrist-watch alarm is a 1, and an air raid warning is a 10, Magnolia Electric Co. rates an ambulance siren, the numerical equivalent of a 9.5.