Jason Molina – Eight Gates: A Posthumous Album And Its Impact


Artist: Jason Molina
Album: Eight Gates

Label: Secretly Canadian
Release Date: August 7, 2020
Location: Chicago, Illinois

Posthumous albums are a strange thing. They always leave you wondering how the artist would have felt about the release. Would they be happy with it as it is, would they have made changes, scrapped songs, added songs? Questions we will never know the answer to, but its these questions that give albums of this nature a special, almost mystical quality that proves that music transcends even death. Why am I talking about posthumous albums? Well Eight Gates is exactly that, an album that was recorded shortly before Jason Molina’s death and release following it. Does this make the music more powerful in a way? I like to think that it does, especially if you know the events leading to Jason’s death.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Jason Molina, he was known for his unique take on both indie and folk music and his incredibly moving voice. He came to prominence through his work with both Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. He also had a number of solo cover albums and live recordings. However, for me, from his entire discography, it’s this album that really hits the hardest and keeps me coming back again and again for ongoing emotional punishment. The story behind the tracks on this album according to Secretly Canadian is this:

In 2008 Molina set off on an experimental solo tour through Europe. While in Northern Italy, Molina claimed to have been bitten by a rare, poisonous spider. A debilitating bout of illness ensued. “I was in the hospital here in London,” Molina wrote in a letter. “Saw six doctors and a Dr. House-type guy. They are all mystified by it, but I am allowed to be at home, where I am taking a dozen scaryHantavirus type pills a day that are all to supposedly help — but they make me feel like shit.” There is no record of a single doctor visit, not any prescription record for these medications. It is entirely plausible there was no spider and that whatever was keeping him indoors during this time was entirely self-induced… While at home, he of course wrote songs. Eight Gates is the last collection of solo studio recordings Molina made before he passed from complications related to alcoholism in 2013. Recorded in London around the time of the supposed spider bite.

Even without knowing this tragic story, the album is easily one of the most emotionally devastating that I’ve ever heard. There’s a level of melancholy present that is hard to even put into words. This sadness is infused both in Jason’s stunning vocal delivery and in the stripped back, depressive instrumentation of the release. The minimalism that Jason employs instrumentally is actually one of my favourite things about the album, as it creates a perfect moody atmosphere that allows his voice to set the tone and energy of each track.

The songs themselves are actually on the shorter side, with most coming in at under 3 minutes. This works for the album’s overall feeling and tone, but it leaves me wishing there had been more recorded before his passing. As selfish as it is to say, I wish he had recorded more music while in this state of mind, as it lends a certain essence to the music that is very hard to define or quantify. This is a man who was very clearly very sick while making this music, both mentally and physically. The suffering he was enduring really carries across to the music he created, making this album as moving and raw as it is. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a voice that carries as much emotion as the vocals recorded on this album. Every time I listen to the release my throat gets a little dry and my eyes get a little wet. The way that it just pierces through the mix, especially in the emptier, more stripped back moments makes it that much more impactful. His ability to sing such soothing melodies and yet convey such devastating sadness is a gift that the world lost with his passing.

As far as favourite songs go, the whole album is phenomenal, but one track always stood out to me above all others Fire on the Rail. This song is just stunning and yet so goddamn sad. Its one of the most stripped back tracks and only comes in at 02:35, but wow does it hit hard between Jason’s vocals and the simplistic guitar elements. A close second place is Be Told the Truth, which gives us some stunning and yet utterly depressing string elements to accompany haunting acoustic guitar and some of the most moving vocals on the album. In third it would have to be Shadow Answers the Wall, as this was the first song of Jason’s I ever heard and it immediately had me hooked, then I read about his passing and the story behind it and I was devastated. I then worked my way back through his entire catalogue, but this one song started it all for me. If I had to pick a fourth track it would be Thistle Blue, which is a little less stripped back than the other tracks mentioned but still features some stunning vocal work and some refreshing electronic ambient elements.

Overall, this is a stunning album, but one that comes at a huge cost to the artist himself, who created it while in a terrible place, a place he never truly escaped from, and which led to his eventual death a few years later. It’s crucial to keep Jason and what he was going through in mind when listening to this album, not only does it pay respect to him, but it makes the whole album that much more moving and impactful. If you enjoy depressive folk/indie music, then this is an absolute must listen.

Listen to and order the album:


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