Molasses is one of those groups I’ve been told is a “must listen”, but my fear of “country/folk noir” and my utter aversion to Godspeed You Black Emperor! with whom Molasses shares members have shamefully kept me away. Yet, even upon initial exposure to Molasses’ packaging, I realized I’d likely be hooked.
The Trilogie: Toil & Peaceful Life disc is protected by a deep green, embossed, triple gatefold sleeve which too is sheathed in a translucent, molasses-colored envelope. Once opened, the packaging is even more enticing; tucked away in the sleeve lies a five-fold hand-lettered lyric and liner sheet printed on brown, grocery bag-esque paper. I suppose well before nearing my play button, I had judged the book by its cover and given Molasses my badge of approval. And while I could have easily stopped there and long admired the bookmaking proficiency of the Montréal seven-piece (or that of their design team), I pushed forward just as I had I once reluctantly done with my now much favored Rachel’s. And as I discovered with Rachel Grimes’ new-classical assemblage, Trilogie: Toil & Peaceful Life to be a surprisingly ample, genre-bending record as well.
Trilogie…, Molasses’ second-release, begins with the autumnal yet warming clang of church bells on the untitled recording of the cathedral bells of Notre-Dame. The bells looped together with sounds of the subway have a calming, sedative affect which is quickly dispersed by singer/guitarist Scott Chernoff’s rustic opening vocal, “We shake the rats from our hair / And spit the dice from our mouths” on “Saint Catherine (Idiot’s Waltz)”. The track shows how the “folk noir” label is not at all ill-suited. The feel of the sparse acoustic guitar flanked by Chernoff’s vocal is certainly folky, while the sweep of strings—violin supported by resonant cello and bass—and destitute organ and percussion create a laborious darkness. Chernoff’s lyrical juxtaposition of the squalor of the “poor fucking hobo” of his tale and the elegance of “Saint Catherine” proves as jarring and complex as Molasses’ genre exploration itself.
Several minutes of swirling, windy organ and programming set the stage for “Lisa’s Waltz (Running Away From Home)”, an even drearier narrative of abandonment, dusty roads and destitution. This time the violin’s pitch is grating, the organs remain at a deeply disconcerting drone and Sam Shalabi’s (The Shalabi Effect) electric guitar wavers morbidly enticing the listener to draw nearer while the Chernoff’s vocals continue to push away.
The four tracks close with an astonishing 14-minute adaptation of “Amazing Grace”. The traditional arrangement is propelled by a much softer Chernoff vocal—graciously complemented by the backing vocals of Norsola Johnson (cello) and Kate Lawrence (violin)—and percussion which replicates the rhythm of a cracking whip. Molasses drift in and out of minimalist bars and into more shimmering, robust passages with a fluency that is so compelling that it adds a fullness to adaptation and record that are overwhelmingly bleak.
However, the privation of the journey through Trilogie: Toil & Peaceful Life leaves the listener so agape at Molasses’ ability to cast beauty onto darkness that one can’t help but soon re-subject him or herself to the rupturing exploration.