Molina’s spider-bitten charms call out on final posthumous solo collection ‘Eight Gates’

Photo by Christopher Bennett

Jason Molina was a teller of tall tales. Anyone who read his biography Riding With the Ghost by Erin Osmon knew he had a history with telling stories that seemed fairly thin of truth or just lying outright. It was part of his weird charm, and it was as much a part of him as his music and his heartbreaking words, which could find a way to carve into your guts.

Molina passed from complications from alcoholism in 2013, dying alone, though the stories and music still uncovered remain, trickling out over the years since we lost him. The latest is “Eight Gates,” a nine-track collection of songs he recorded when he moved to London, somewhere around 2008 when he claimed to have been a victim of a mysterious poisonous spider bite that apparently baffled his doctors and left him on hantavirus medication. Naturally, there are no records of any doctor’s appointments, so it’s likely just another part of his lore. These songs also mark the last of Molina’s solo material he recorded before he died, so that adds even more gravity to the proceedings. Obviously, this is a metal site, but Molina’s music has seeped its way deep into that scene as well, and the artist’s earliest music was based in heavier sounds. So, he’s right at home with the audience for this site, listeners who are in touch with their own hurt and the way Molina so uniquely revealed his own.

“Whisper Away” starts with birds chirping, an element woven through the entire record, as strings and guitars awaken and Molina calls, “Whisper away your last smile,” as the track churns away, back toward the birds. “Shadow Answers the Wall” has the drums pushing and organs swelling, with Molina wondering, “If I had never believed and everything came into place, would the stars be looking down on me?” The drums rattle and echo in haunted soul while the track buzzes into the familiar chirps. “The Mission’s End” is acoustic with naked vocals, a simple folk tune where Molina urges, “We’re all equal along this path,” as the track bows out. “Old Worry” combines acoustics and organs, as Molina declares, “I took the oath of the wanderer,” another poignant line from a man whose notebooks were full of them. Sounds lightly ricochet, settling into the earth to rest forever.

“She Says” starts with Molina chatting with folks in the studio, quipping, “The perfect take is as long as the person singing is still alive.” The playing feels loose, almost thrown together in an alluring way, reveling in quiet and stillness. “Fire on the Rail” starts with Molina singing a capella, as he pokes, “Fire on the prairie, dawn, who have we failed?” Guitars flow in as the track bleeds slowly, sweeping like a ghost in and out of the room, leaving a draft behind. “Be Told the Truth” blends guitars, keys, and strings, dripping as Molina laments, “How could something be so falling apart?” The song quivers in place while the keys swell, feeling like a hot rainy night in the summer. “Thistle Blue” delivers guitars that seem to hint at trouble as keys surface, and Molina levels, “It’s late I know, but not for strangers.” The keys bubble as Molina’s guilt gets him again as he sings, “A choice at least once in your time whose heartbreak could I not leave behind,” calmly navigating through trouble back into the embrace of birds chirping. “The Crossroad + The Emptiness” is the final cut, and again, Molina is addressing those working near him as he says, “Shut up, this is my record.” The song itself is classic Molina folk as he sits on his Dec. 30th birthday, offering, “I feel the dread as you re-read my palms.” It’s a hush of a song, a track that quietly exists and ends before you really get a read on it.

This record is Jason Molina through and through, though it also is something that feels a little different from a lot of his work. Who knows what the fate these nine “Eight Gates” songs would have met had he lived, but with him retiring to another plane, we have these pieces, skeletal as they may be at times, to try to understand. It’s a welcome collection from a man whose star never got to shine as elegantly as it should have before his troubles came to claim him.

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