[14 April 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Pop music, if and when it works as representational art, is reflective. It seeks to find emotion and meaning in moments, in memories, in scenes imagined. It takes detail and story and perspective and stretches them to create metaphor, to create connection with an audience, to say something about experience. Last year, Tony Molina released Dissed and Dismissed, an album that calls all of those pop expectations into question. The 12-song, 11-minute album is now being reissued by Slumberland Records, and now a wider audience can glimpse this quick blast of power-pop that is very rooted in experience but isn’t all that interested in defining that experience, even if it plainly and briefly represents it.
Molina’s songs follow a pretty uniform structure here, save the finger-picked instrumental lovingly titled “Sick Ass Riff”. The song opens with a blast of power chords and a deep hook under Molina’s one or two short verses. Then there’s a big-riff breakdown with big drums, rumbling bass, and double-guitar shredding grandeur. This breakdown at the end, it undercuts any notion of this being bedroom or lo-fi. If the songs sound a bit murky, and if they are terribly short—“Don’t Come Back” is an epic here running at 1:32—they are never small.
But those riffs also cut off exactly what we expect from these songs. As the verses come and go quickly, and only once, they also read as the chorus (though, again, only sung once). They establish a hummable, even repeatable melody, but they refuse to repeat that melody. Instead, the big guitars and drums come in and hi-jack the proceedings. Even then, though, that onslaught comes and goes with only a cycle or two. Take opener “Nowhere to Go”. It implies some desire to linger with the atmospheric feedback that begins the song, but when the power chords churn in and Molina sings his verse about there being “nowhere else to go”, then we get the rise and fall guitar hook that feels vaguely frustrated, vaguely sad in its heroics, and then it’s gone.
Considering how intensely catchy these songs are, from the sped-up fuzz blast of “Change My Ways” to the isolated haze of guitar on “Nothing I Can Do” or moody textures of “Spoke Too Soon”, you’d think Molina would want to spend more time here, or give us more time, to relish these perfectly constructed melodies, these unbridled and energetic guitar fills. But instead the songs simply lay them out on the table and then walk away. These aren’t musical feasts. Each song is more like a musical equivalent of Amuse-bouche, a one-bite taste setting up a meal that never comes.
But maybe this isn’t about denial. Many of Molina’s lyrics end in some sort of finality. As the title implied, there’s a lot of disconnect and isolation here. Molina is often left or feeling lost. He’s got “nowhere else to go” or he’s “back to his old ways / And that’s how it’s always gonna stay”. When it’s not about things ending, it’s about Molina’s hands being tied, as on the aptly titled “Nothing I Can Do” or how he admits “my thoughts come back to you” on “Change My Ways”. These are the two places these songs head to: dead ends and negative repetition. It may seem like a wink, on an album of brief pop snippets, to cover Guided By Voices’ “Wandering Boy Poet”, but the quotidian repetition of that song (rendered beautifully by Molina in a rare acoustic moment) is just another cul-de-sac on this record.
So the brevity of these songs becomes representative but not reflective. Tony Molina doesn’t find meaning in these moments of dismissal or loss, but rather puts them to song without any of the comfort of an implied moving on or the cathartic notion of reliving the pain. What Molina does is something a bit more interesting, a bit more reflexive. If he states the situation plainly in his verses, the guitar work here acts as a counterbalance. It’s music as escape, music as salve, music as the transcendent thing that life can’t ever quite be. It doesn’t explain these hard moments, but it couches them, for just a moment, in a triumphant sound. So if Molina isn’t trying to figure these moments out through song, he’s at least asserting an interesting sort of control over them by putting them in these small structures, by subbing out emotional pain for the feeling music can create in the moment. The brief expression of this musical bliss does risk limiting its effect, and it takes a few listens before the overall order and sense of Dissed and Dismissed takes hold. But once it does, the album becomes a fascinating study on what happens when music just exists, in all its glory, for a moment. This fascinating album presents us with both representation and escape, without providing explanation for either.