by Huw Baines (@huwbaines)
Willard Wigan makes microscopic art. The British sculptor has spent his career mounting tiny creations in the eyes of needles, later presenting us with a microscope so that we can take in Innerspace renderings of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party and Last Supper.
West Bay songwriter Tony Molina has been attempting something similar for some time now, by building records that look like Micro Machines secreted on a garage forecourt. His appetite for brevity hasn’t waned since his early days in the San Francisco hardcore scene, and his new record Kill The Lights serves up 10 songs in a little under 15 minutes (actually, this is fairly long-winded given past efforts).
Molina endeavors to strip pop back to its basic elements, focusing intently on melody over conventional structures. It’s nothing for a song to contain only a single verse and chorus, or for a beautiful guitar lead to grab its coat and leave only a few seconds after appearing. Having earlier thrashed out fuzzy gems in the tradition of golden era Weezer, Kill The Lights represents another step in what now appears to be an ongoing stylistic reinvention. It splits its time between Teenage Fanclub-derived power pop and the almost pastoral acoustic tracks that made up 2016’s Confront The Truth, fusing the two through a warm aesthetic and excellent sequencing.
There is also an introverted, almost self-pitying sadness at work. Molina is alone, and he’s not happy about it. She’s gone and he wants her back - it’s classic grist to the pop mill, and delivered with deadpan sincerity. But there is also a more existential bent to his words, with frequent nods to anxiety and an undercurrent that suggests he might simply board up the windows and rot. “I just want to hide,” he sings on ‘Afraid To Go Outside’.
Gentle pop songs have long housed the bloodiest emotions and Molina’s are no different. He flits between Byrdsian jangle and whirring organs, all the while wearing a broken heart on his sleeve. “When she leaves me, where am I to go?” he sings.
If anything, the truncated running times only serve to foreground his lyrics. He seems to be of the opinion that there’s little point in documenting oblique thoughts when you’re playing with seconds, not minutes. “All my friends have let me down, I don’t think I’ll hang around here,” he sings on ‘Wrong Town’. “There’s no hope to be found.”
Kill The Lights, for all its sparkling melody and clever feats of construction, is a righteous bummer. It’s singing along to your favorite song as tears snake towards the gaps in your smile.