Songs: Ohia – Ghost Tropic

Songs: Ohia
Ghost Tropic

There are a couple ways that Songs: Ohia have been perceived over the years. For the most part, it has been dramatically positive from the critics’ point of view. On the other hand, there has been a group of nay-sayers (yours truly included) who have said that Songs: Ohia mastermind Jason Molina’s exploits were too Palace Brothers-influenced, that Molina and Will Oldham were sharing the same house and cooking over the same stove. And this mode of thinking once made it difficult for me to listen to S:O without any prior judgement.
Then there was The Lioness, an exceedingly beautiful album that the editor of this e-zine had to talk me into listening to again after I had already denied an embrace. Frankly, I just didn’t get it. So, I bought the album and listened to the whole thing. One day, when I was very much alone and staring into the midnight air (with a glass or two of the hard stuff on the rocks), the melodies and harmonies all came together on my headphones. Magically, things all made sense. Suddenly, I understood. Oldham and Molina were using the same stove, but they were really cooking very different dishes. So, you can understand my anticipation when I found out that Ghost Tropic had been released. I pedaled a few blocks, paid the cashier, and rode home with much anticipation.
One thing that is made absolutely clear to me from listening to The Lioness, and, now, Ghost Tropic, is that Molina is no William Oldham. First off, Molina can sing. He can hold a note for quite a while and keep the pitch on keel. He also has a strong ability to sense what a song needs vocally and has the range to search for the right notes, whereas Oldham at times is so limited, I believe he sticks to the notes he can reach with his limited ear (while somehow still maintaining a golden touch).
Ghost Tropic starts with “Lightening Risked It All,” an odd, slow song that simply sits there for 4 minutes plus. I was primed and ready. Maybe I was expecting too much. I was told this album would be more stripped down, more haunting. I figured this song to be an “Introduction” piece, and so I journeyed to song 2.
“The Body Burned Away” totally lived up to my expectations, and I was moved by the classic throbbing, haunting, roominess of the acoustics. Jason’s voice is steady and strong, and, yes, this business is stripped down. And this moody, chilling smoothness continues on through “No Limits on the Words” and the eerie “Ghost Tropic,” where we clearly hear Molina’s attempt to formulate a vision of sound with his Appendix Out teammates. In this world, there are dark places and evil chirps and strange guitar plucks.
And all this atmosphere of ghosts and goblins adds up and comes crashing in on “The Ocean’s Nerves” as it bleeds out of the ending of track 4. This all starts with thick building percussion and sweet dueling acoustic guitars, and finally Molina’s voice joins in that supremely emotive way that just works perfectly.
“Not Just a Ghost’s Heart,” continues the dreamy world of Ghost Tropic with its Pink Floyd-esque beating guitar and ominous pianos, and then it runs into a flurry of sad singing, ringing, casios swooning and beeping. Great mood sculpture, but it goes on a bit too long with no real purpose at 12 minutes plus. The same lack of purpose could be sited to the final tracks: while they continue to hold on to the mood so well constructed in this Ghost Tropic, they do not build on its mystique.
This is a fabulous concept album, and it would make a great soundtrack for any stirring movie; as well, it fits into the totality of what S:O has brought us so far. It is part of the Molina story, and fans of his will want to get a hold of this one – no doubt about it. I will say, however, in my humble opinion, it doesn’t live up to the overall and complete meaning and depth that The Lioness or other S:O albums have offered. But these are very lofty expectations indeed.