Published Aug 06, 2020The nine songs on Eight Gates comprise the last batch of recordings made by Jason Molina before his death in 2013. Several of the tracks successfully revisit signature elements of the singer-songwriter's best work – Magnolia Electric Co.'s "Farewell Transmission" and "Hold on Magnolia," Didn't It Rain's "Blue Chicago Moon," What Comes After the Blues's "Hammer Down," and Ghost Tropic's "Incantation," among others – though taken as a whole, the project largely occurs as a series of drafts or truncated sketches.
"Whisper Away," the album's opener, commences with birdsong, an audial symbol of ebullience that contrasts effectively with the song's minor chords and Molina's etherial yet tortured vocal: "Whisper away the howling universe / …Whisper away your last smile." The track captures Molina's career-defining angst, epitomizing his slowcore/lo-fi proclivities.
"Shadow Answers the Wall" revels in apocalyptic tones, though the piece fails to fully translate prior to its abrupt ending. Josh Hillman's viola part on "Old Worry" defines the song's emotional tint as much as or more than Molina's voice or lyrics. "Fire on the Rail" features Molina's talent for sublimely archetypal imagery: "Fire in the field / …Fire on the rail / Engine, oh my engine / Fire on the prairie."
The album closes with "The Crossroad + the Emptiness," poeticizing the inevitability of death and oblivion ("Remember we were the nameless ones"). As the project opened with birdsong, so it closes with it too, alluding, perhaps, to the possibility of peace and wholeness beyond our earthly traumas.
While Eight Gates seems mostly germinal and is not the ideal introduction to Molina's work, fans will likely forgive the album's inchoateness and simply appreciate another dollop of the artist's distinct melancholia — nine tunes that underscore his attunement to suffering, inconsequence, and the brutality of the corporeal world. (Secretly Canadian)