Jason Molina’s stunning progression on record — from moderately interesting folk to raging Crazy Horse art-rock in about two years — has been paced only by his progression as a live artist. In the proud tradition of Americana artists who dropped the self-important schtick and got themselves a kick-ass rock band (looking at you, Bruce Springsteen), Molina has retired his longstanding Songs: Ohia moniker in favor of Magnolia Electric Co., a bristling, five-piece behemoth that approximates the ragged distortion of Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the straightforward boogie of Creedence Clearwater Revival.
If his recent live performances are to be believed, Molina is himself a reformed man. No longer chastising audiences for a lack of attention, he playfully introduces guitar solos (“You still got something to say about it?”) and crooning like he’s trying to charm the sky out of raining on his classic rock parade. Trials & Errors is the unit’s first album as a group, recorded on stage one night in Brussels. Consisting of only three tracks from past albums, the mostly new material has its share of road bruises, but the band never falters, propping up Molina’s country-isms with joyous energy.
Molina hasn’t completely abandoned his weary persona — his lyrics still contain plenty of dreary Midwestern hopelessness. The titles of the album’s first two songs contain the word “dark,” and the third track, “Such Pretty Eyes for a Snake,” comes closer to his he-man-woman-hater early work than anything he’s released in years. But for the most part, his new work is imbued with a sense of fortitude — sonically if not lyrically — that his prior work lacked. The blissful jaunt of “The Dark Don’t Hide It” masks malicious intent, and the tempered trumpet that interrupts the verse of “Leave the City” is the sonic equivalent of a cigarette warming stubby fingers. “North Star,” despite two minutes of introductory noodling, is the album’s standout track. Molina’s poetic verse merges with aged American clich