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Magnolia Electric Co., "Fading Trails"

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Recorded at four separate studios, mastered by two different individuals, and performed by nine musicians, Fading Trails is looser, perhaps a little grittier, and heavily stripped down compared to What Comes After the Blues. Where that album sometimes seemed a bit too full, packed to the brim with sound, this is the Company's return to a looser, more open sound.

 

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"Don't Fade On Me" might be the sonic antithesis to "The Dark Don't Hide It." It begins the album on a quiet note, a lament that strolls more than it attempts to break down any walls. Despite the fact that What Comes After Blues had a number of beautiful, inward-bound moments, the production and emphasis on that album was the presence of sound and on Fading Trails the band makes sure that the opposite is true. All of these songs play with the spaces in between the notes, allowing tension, rhythm, and simple grooves drive the music. The guitars aren't as prominent as before on some songs. Pianos and Molina's voice often take the lead, small details emerging in the music when the two breathe more than they exhale (as on "The Old Horizon"). Anyone who heard the free download of "Lonesome Valley" (from this album) will know that there was a simpler focus on this record, the instrumentation becoming full when it needs to, but also laying off when Molina's attitude and strong voice demand to be up front and center.

Some of Molina's solo work has bled into the Magnolia recordings this time, with songs like "A Little At a Time" exhibiting the sort of desolation that makes a Molina record so appealing. It's as though the band has found a way to strike a happy medium between the first Magnolia album and What Comes After the Blues. I miss the overtly country themes that crept out on that first album, but the band invokes the same feelings those songs stirred up by keeping the music simple, memorable, and less controlled. The breathing room this provides also conjures up some ghosts, Molina playing with styles more and turning out some truly haunting moments. "The Old Horizon" might be one of my favorite songs from Magnolia Electric Co. and it certainly stands out on this record; the song is as barren as they come, resonating more than any song on the album. It forces the other songs to rotate about it as though it were a strange black hole on the record where everything gets swallowed up. On it, Molina reawakens some of his mystical imagery to draw connections between disparate thoughts or ideas. It works on two levels, as an expressionistic and breathtaking harmony between lyrics and music, but also thematically. "The Old Horizon" is slowly disappearing, becoming more impossible to capture; with it the album changes course.

The use of keyboards, acoustic guitar, electric stabs, and the circular, swirling melodies on "Talk To Me Devil, Again" create a strange blend of reflective and swaggering music. It's as though the melancholy on the album can't stand still because it's too drunk and busy daydreaming to realize it's sad. The entire second half of the album practically bathes in this feeling of simultaneous sadness and joy, sounding as though it was written as a process or a way of recognizing the joy in overcoming some difficulty. Then again, the album ends with "Steady Now." The song begins and Molina sings, "Everything in it's place, the world does have to end in pain." I'm instantly reminded of Songs:Ohia and "Cross the Road, Molina." The mood is perfect and the acoustic guitar seems to carry a weight with it that its size and shape shouldn't be able to lift. Nonetheless, there's a certain pessimism that this song leaves me with, as though the Fading Trails of the title are fading for everyone. "The world does have to go in pain / Oh steady now / Everything in it's place / Steady now" and then the album ends. There's no way to listen to this record and not have it weighing on me later. It sticks to my mind and appeals to my heart just as much.

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Last Updated on Sunday, 10 September 2006 15:36  


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