Despite supposedly being “in the can” for at least four years before Jason Molina’s proper final release, 2012’s Autumn Bird Songs, the spectre of death still haunts Eight Gates. The beloved Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. mastermind-frontman died of organ failure in 2013 – as the blunt saying goes, he drank himself to death. Crass as it might seem to go looking for those tell-tale signs, or thinking of anything he might have done as tears-in-your-beer country music – though, the main body of his work rattles with that shaken timbre – the timing of these songs, the ones that would eventually come to constitute this posthumous LP, can’t help but signify an impasse for Molina.
Eight Gates originally came about in 2008, roughly around the time he cancelled a Magnolia Electric Co. tour due to health issues. He slowly deteriorated over the next four years, relatively withdrawn from public life, until his death at the age of 39. The extent to which anything Molina wrote was autobiographical remains up for debate; he was undoubtedly hopelessly romantic and introspective. But it’s difficult not to ascribe a sort of personal, prophetic sadness to the opening lines of ‘Whisper Away’: “Whisper away the howling universe / pale against something, pale against what?”. “Admissions, and here’s the trembling flame”, sings Molina over the beautifully simple, open-tuned chord progression of ‘The Mission’s End’. The raging against the dying of the light is ireful, if also hopeless and, at times, absurdly funny. Even as instrumentals are fleshed out with funereal organ drones and mournful guitars on ‘Be Told The Truth’ and ‘Fire On The Rail’, the unfinished nature of Eight Gates (most songs don’t pass the three minute mark) allows Molina’s tenor yowl to remain centre stage. However the guiding principle of this posthumous LP decided to arrange Eight Gates, there was undoubtedly plenty of material to feed it with a downturned finality.
Molina’s close indie rock analogue, Elliott Smith, became more pop-minded with 2004’s posthumous From a Basement on the Hill; but Eight Gates feels like the beginning of a noted descent into a deeper, darker place. But, as any good posthumous release must do, the fonder memories play out. “The perfect take is just… as long as the person singing is still alive” begins the studio patter of ‘Old Worry’. Fortunately for us, Molina delivered plenty of those.
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