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Album Review: Tony Molina ‘Kill the Lights’

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PENINSULA POP: Tony Molina returns with a mature second full length, riffing on The Beatles, Elliott Smith, and The Byrds.

PENINSULA POP: Tony Molina returns with a mature second full length, riffing on The Beatles, Elliott Smith, and The Byrds.

Almost every musician I know loves Tony Molina. It’s pretty easy to see why. So far, he’s written nothing but near-perfect songs. The 20 tracks that span his first full length (Dissed and Dismissed) and its follow-up EP (2016’s Confront the Truth) are a wealth of melodies, riffs and leads, with hardly a second of run-time wasted.  

Now, the Peninsula-based musician is back with Kill the Lights. Released on July 27, it’s his first-full length since Dissed and Dismissed appeared on tape back in 2013. “Full length” is, of course, a loose term here, since the album’s 10 tracks fly by in less than 15 minutes. In Molina’s world, the melodies start early and carry the songs through their just-as-early ends.

Take, for example, album highlight “Jaspar’s Theme.” Sounding a bit like full-band Elliott Smith, the tune hits the listener with three razor sharp melodies in a row, dips into a guitar solo and then immediately connects to its outro. For someone familiar with Molina’s work, it’s an example of the clarity of his songwriting, and a particularly good one at that. And at 2:02, it’s also one of the longest songs in his discography.

Molina famously came out of the West Bay’s hardcore scene, and at this point, giving the hardcore treatment to pop songs is already well-worn territory for him. Dissed and Dismissed was a compact pop gem flecked with colors of Weezer, Ozma, and playful bits of Iron Maiden-y shredding. Only half of its 12 tracks exceeded a minute, but all of them established his format of taking a big rock sound and boiling it down to its essence, often bookended by squeals of feedback.

Confront the Truth, it’s 2016 follow-up, was quieter but no less brief. Not only did it shed its predecessor’s characteristic squeals of feedback, there was no distortion on the record whatsoever. Instead, Truth was coated in the gentle purr of an organ, the melodies sounding more like Lennon, Big Star and Elliott Smith, and less like Rivers Cuomo.

For someone whose first record was practically synonymous with shredding guitar leads, this was a change some found disorienting, but it doesn’t take many listens for the througline between both records to become apparent. Though the sonic palette may have shifted dramatically, it was still unmistakably Molina in spirit, skill and voice.

Those core elements are just as present on Kill the Lights. The new record builds on Confront the Truth, and often sound as though Molina is untangling the mess of wires that is classic rock, and repatching it into something more direct.

But make no mistake, there is a lot of classic in this rock. Kill the Lights is one of the few records in recent memory that might bring millennials and their grandparents together. Plenty of AM rock gets run through Molina’s streamlined machine, coming out the other side sounding fresh, almost punk. Album opener “Nothing I Can Say” riffs lightly on the Byrds’ “The Bells of Rhymney” before exploding into pastoral oohs and 12 string leads, encapsulating an entire summer in less than a hundred seconds. It also features the weirdly assertive line, “There’s no such thing as time,” which just might be the hidden mission statement of Molina’s entire project. If time is an illusion, who cares how long the songs are (or what era of pop they’re inspired by), as long as they work? It’s a no-bullshit kind of approach, one that clearly reflects his come up from the Bay Area’s DIY scene.

And on Kill the Lights that’s exactly what you’ll get: no bullshit. If you’re already a fan of Molina, here you’ll find some of his best songs to date. And if you’re new to the club, welcome. Get ready to hit repeat in a few minutes.

Kill the Lights
Tony Molina
Slumberland Records

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