Jason Molina has a somewhat interesting musical history, and as such, it’s curious that he’s created such a boring album in Pyramid Electric Co.. It’s the solo companion to Songs:Ohia’s Magnolia Electric Co., the most recent effort by the Molina-led band. In the past, Molina had bopped around many heavy metal outfits as a bass player, then built up a library of recordings as Songs:Albian, Songs:Unitas, and other monikers, making it clear that he does, in fact, play songs. But while Songs:Ohia saw Molina flashing his songwriting teeth at their sharpest, his solo record shows them at their dullest (pun hugely intended).
His unique voice and Neil Young-meets-Conor Oberst style lend a similar tone to both albums, but Pyramid is a far sparser outing, and Molina employs several conventions that he seems to hope will make things interesting. For all you kids playing along at home, make a note that the following things do not make your music artsy or cool:
1. Alternate tunings: Molina’s guitar is always played in some tuning of his own invention, and it adds nothing whatsoever to the sound. A two-chord song is still a two-chord song, standard tuning or not.
2. Textural elements so low they’re barely audible to the human ear: If we can’t hear something, it can’t possibly strengthen the music. Listening closely for the low buzzes and distant guitar sounds under Molina’s songs is sort of like playing “Where’s Waldo” blindfolded. The explanation for the subtle elements is beyond me, though Molina (and producer Mike Mogis, who spends his time producing for Conor Oberst and other Saddle Creek bands when he’s not playing guitar in Lullaby for the Working Class) may be trying to explore Microphones territory. He has the static boring songs and the fragile voice down, but the recording has a long way to go.
3. Epic-length songs: The only way to scrape past the six-minute mark is to, at the absolute least, have more than one section and preferably some wailing guitar solos. The latter is more expendable, but Molina’s songs tend not to stray from one single riff and a fraction of a melody repeated ad nauseum. This is what truly makes Pyramid Electric Co. the work of sheer boredom that it is; the album feels like one long forty-minute exhalation.
4. Neglect of song structure: There’s this thing that kids lately have been using in their songs; it’s called a bridge. It gives a song a plot, maybe changes the key or adds a certain amount of anticipation. Even on this album’s longest songs, there is nary a bridge to be found, and they boast about as much suspense as a grocery-store produce aisle.
To be fair, Molina hasn’t stepped up and announced that he is attempting to write structured, bubbly pop songs, which would make him a filthy liar. But regardless of what he is trying to create, the songs on Pyramid Electric Co. comprise several of what could be the most boring moments of your life. And I even like buying produce.