Songs: Ohia – The Lioness

Songs: Ohia
The Lioness

Generally, the Pick of the Week is a recent release or one that will be out in stores soon. The Lioness has been out for several months, but it still deserves the designation. Because this album is one of the most somber, powerful, beautiful and well-crafted album I have heard in a very long time.
Songs: Ohia thank Arab Strap in the liner notes, well, frankly as their only liner note. It’s a fitting tribute, I think, as the band comes across as sounding similar to Arab Strap. (Some of the Strap members even helped with the recording. Members of Appendix Out also contributed.) But there’s a decidedly more stripped-bare and heartfelt feeling here, as if Jason Molina, who wrote all of these songs and is the main impetus behind Songs: Ohia, is opening himself up completely and showing you all of the pain and torment and other emotions he has gone through.
This music is heavily folk-inspired, bringing in acoustic guitars and steady percussion without out making for too much sound. In fact, it’s the sometimes bareness of the sound that makes Songs: Ohia all the more powerful. You get as much from the space between the sounds as the sounds themselves. The music is mostly quiet but builds powerfully, and Molina’s vocals, mixed far to the front, are perfect for a folk-inspired singer. You can’t help but hear a Nick Drake influence here, but I’d say Molina is far more heartfelt than Drake. And although Songs may bear some slight resemblance to the Palace Brothers (as mentioned in the June Panic review), Molina has more range and more feeling than Oldham ever dreamed of.
Turn up the volume as “The Black Crow” kicks off, mellow but steady. This song builds throughout, and as Molina’s voice booms out in his sincere and perfect vocals, you can’t help but get lost in his words. It’s all about power. “Tigress” has a bit more of a steady flow, with background organs filling out the sound. And Molina is almost even more emotional in the chorus than any other point, as the music builds to a steady crescendo behind his vocals. The guitars are the strong point to the flowing pop of “Nervous Bride,” and “Bing in Love” utilizes echoed drums and keyboards for perhaps the most moody of all the songs, especially as Molina sings, “being in love means you are completely broken, then put back together.” “Lioness” is about the softest and most simple song, building up in the chorus but keeping its more quiet, sit-in-the-corner feel about it, even as Molina sings, “you can’t get here fast enough,” over and over. It’s on “Coxcomb Red” that Molina crafted one of his most beautiful pop songs, though. With its subtle bass and guitar lines and the chorus of “your hair is coxcomb red, your eyes are viper black,” this song can’t help but sway your heart. “Baby Take a Look” is basically Molina and an acoustic guitar, and it’s thus probably the most folkish of the songs. And the album ends with a bare little ode, “Just a Spark,” that reminds me quite a bit of Drake without being overly similar.
Songs: Ohia is about as nearly perfect a heartfelt grouping of soft, emotional pop songs as I’ve ever heard. Molina flirts with folkish rock songs without ever leaving the grips of simple pop. But even as Molina is bearing his soul, it’s all about beauty. His voice and the accompanying music is pure beauty, even as they cast a somber or introspective mood around the entire song. I think it’s a combination of his stellar voice and his deeply poignant lyrics that make Molina’s work with Songs: Ohia so wonderful. This album has become one of my favorite and most cherished.