The pairing of Jason Molina and Will Johnson seems like a no-brainer: two prolific artists both with a history of collaboration, and both minimalists who embrace quiet, eerily jagged tableaux. That the two took so long to pair up seems even more unfortunate considering that Molina & Johnson combines their voices to fabulous effect, the broad, mostly blank canvases of their similar styles interlocking like the pieces of a strangely barren puzzle. Like Molina and Johnson’s best solo work, the songs here are inconspicuous slow burners that improve with each listen. Molina’s creative voice is slightly more prevalent here, but the two share singing duties, usually trading back and forth from one song to another. Sometimes they combine, as on the wordless and hypnotic “Now, Divide,” which uses only a wave of hums, atmospheric noise, and a shower of guitars that repeatedly rises, breaks, and falls. The haunting “All Falls Together,” which employs a theremin better than any song in recent memory, adds female vocals, and the full combination of these three voices leaves a spooky backdrop poised somewhere between minimalist country and total quiet, flitting back and forth between the two. “Wooden Heart” finds Molina at his best, with a surprising burst of electrified acoustic, serrated notes that ring out sharply across an empty landscape. This kind of contrast, between echoing guitar lines and the emptiness that lies behind them, has always been present in his finest songs, consistently and reliably mining a small, Neil Young-inspired niche. This empty feeling contributes to the quiet mood of Molina & Johnson, which feels dark and battered yet still gleaming, a compilation that’s as evocative as the best work of either of its namesakes.
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