As many of us look for some redemption from the collective trauma — or at least grand inconvenience — the past year has brought, there’s also amnesia on the horizon. Soon, we’ll once again frolic in parks and hog armrests on airplanes, and the endless days and weeks of the pandemic will eventually melt into one another and become, well, lost.
Lost Demos, a new album by the Lost Days (Tony Molina, Sarah Rose Janko), meets this coming moment head-on. It’s a short, five-song EP woven with nostalgic harmonies and lazy, 1960s pop guitar riffs that echo inside your ears and evoke a sense of longing, lethargy, and a semi-sweet flavor of booze-addled joy and regret. Molina is no stranger to the short song. In fact, most of his tracks rarely push the two-minute mark (check out Dissed and Dismissed, reviewed by PopMatters in 2014). But the brevity of his tunes often belies their depth. Reminiscent of Minutemen in their blink-and-you’ll-miss-it format, Molina’s work gives you everything you need and nothing you don’t.
Lost Demos charts new waters for Molina as he joins another Bay Area punk-adjacent misfit, Sarah Rose Janko, of the pysch-garage-folk trio Dawn Riding. Together, they paint a sonic landscape that might as well be a polaroid of California Highway 1, winding up the coast on a misty spring morning.
Or, at least that’s what I saw, quite literally, as I played the album for the first time in my dirty Subaru, as I drove from Santa Monica to the Ventura County Line to go surfing on a Saturday morning. Heading north between the arid Southern California hills and dark blue ocean, the flagship single, “In the Fade”, really played the space in my car. The deceptively simple first verse (“I don’t know how I seemed to lose my way / And I need you to help me through today”) sets the tone for the rest of the album, which thematically explores the blissful and challenging malaise felt by two lovers that are checked out of the world and lost entirely to one another.
It also seems to be about the treacherous love triangle between two people who love each other, but who also love the bottom of a whiskey bottle (“cause when the store opens, help is on the way”). In this way, we’re introduced to a relatable pair of star-crossed lovers on a collision course with heartbreak and addiction. Here, the harmonies approach those minted by early Beach Boys tunes, and the twang of Molina’s guitar keeps the whole thing moving forward, steadily on the ground, but hurtling toward disaster.
The next track, “Coward Exposed”, appears to pick up at the end of a blowout between the folks we met in the previous song (“A life of mistakes, yet you still make them each day / Take what’s left of you and go”). Molina and Rose channel their inner Crosby, Stills & Nash, while guest artist Jessie Leigh Smith picks up the Young with a right-on-time refrain from her harmonica. At this point, we’re all invested in the jilted love affair. Where will things go from here?
Apparently, to the “Levee Road”. This is my favorite song on the album, and maybe because it just so perfectly encapsulates knowing a lover is gone, driving out on some lonesome road and into the arms of someone else. In this case, it’s a guy driving “out to Sacramento, where you know someone out there that I don’t know”. While I was driving several hundred miles south of the state capitol when I heard it, I couldn’t stop picturing a guy smoking cigarettes at night, cruising north through the Sacramento River Delta while his lady sits in her kitchen alone. Of course, the line carries the gravity it does by way of the thumbed-out baseline, wistful guitar, and spooky lyrics deftly offered by Janko. Sitting at the center of the album, “Levee Road” isn’t to be missed and should probably be replayed at least once before moving on with the rest.
“In her lonely nights again / All she feels is pain / Everyone who feels alone, by the love that isn’t shown / And I’ll see you tomorrow again.” That’s how the penultimate track, “Tomorrow Again”, opens, and it feels like it’s doing so from the perspective of the next morning — which also speaks to a part of what makes this short album so special. Lost Demos can easily be heard as a short story, one that the melancholy, vintage pop genre it’s built upon holds up quite pleasantly. It’s like looking at an old photo album or scrolling through texts from your ex-girlfriend. It all makes sense in some linear way, but it’s also hard to grasp if you just focus on the individual parts. That’s where the pop and the harmonies help; they keep the whole thing on planet Earth.
“Tomorrow Again” is a bright, albeit sad tune that’s the shortest of the album — less than a minute long. The plucking and strumming from Molina’s guitar is very much at the front of the track, and its interstitial nature helps to prepare for the finalé.
Lost Demos ends with a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “To Go Home”, punctuating the album with an ellipsis instead of a period. It’s a rendition of the original that’s pitch-perfect with the preceding four songs and brings all the elements that make the EP shine — the harmonies, the coastal strumming, the mood of tenuous hope — clearly into focus. It leaves us wondering if the two lovers will patch things up, but also makes us feel like it’s OK if they don’t.
By the time I pulled over to the side of the road just south of Neptune’s Net, a classic seafood joint right across the street from the break at County Line, I had listened to the album two or three times over. It was an affecting drive. As I slipped my surfboard into the water, the songs were stuck in my head and I could start to feel some of the aforementioned pandemic amnesia creeping in.