Tony Molina has mastered the old showbiz axiom of leaving ‘em wanting more. The Bay Area singer-songwriter cut his teeth playing hardcore punk, recording bite-sized noise-pop blasts with the Ovens, before going solo with 2014’s Dissed and Dismissed, a 12-track album of pitch-perfect Weezer worship that lasts less than 12 minutes. Two years ago, Molina unplugged with Confront the Truth, an EP of eight gorgeous acoustic pop songs, seven of which wrap up in under two minutes.
What’s interesting and impressive about Molina’s songs is that they rarely feel unfinished or even hurried. The guy usually packs a verse and a chorus, maybe a guitar solo and/or some fingerpicking, and he paces it all perfectly across 26 or 57 or 91 seconds. He is seemingly unbound by verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus conventions, and yet his mini-masterpieces always feel complete.
Which may sound contradictory to the idea of leaving ‘em wanting more, but it’s not. A smoke break’s worth of Molina songs every few years is not enough. They’re that good. And they’re better than ever on his new album Kill the Lights, which finds him adding full-band arrangements and electricity back into his songs and steering straight into pop-rock heaven.
By now, you know that Kill the Lights is short: 10 tracks in under 15 minutes. The longest song is actually two in one, “Look Inside Your Mind/Losin’ Touch,” which features a woozy psych-pop melody, a delicately plucked interlude and a bluesy solo within it’s two and a half minutes. “Time after time, you will see,” he sings forlornly as guitar strings dance in the background, “there is no place here for you and me.”
Most of Kill the Lights centers around love and, more precisely, loss. “When She Leaves” has lovely harmonies, but it sighs with the resignation of someone who sees the writing on the wall. “Before You Go” is particularly downcast (“my house is not a home,” Molina sings), despite a bright bit of Paul Simon-style picking. And “Now That She’s Gone” sounds like a bedroom Beatles recording retrofitted with a twin acoustic-guitar section worthy of a fancy classical concert. Read just those three song titles in a row and you’ve got a story with a beginning, a middle and an end. Listen to them back-to-back-to-back and you’re bummed out in under four minutes.
Molina kicks off Kill the Lights with his best bit of Byrds worship, a song called “Nothing I Can Say” that radiates warmth in its 12-stringed strum and backing ooohs. At 1:11, it is a study in efficient songwriting. “Wrong Town” is a sparkling and somber misfit’s tale that evokes visions of Elliott Smith. And the album peaks in the middle with two songs—“Jasper’s Theme” and “Give He Take You”—whose electrified jangle and earnest simplicity recall Teenage Fanclub.
That’s a lot of comparisons to more famous artists, and Molina probably wouldn’t run from any of them, given the way he embraces them on Kill the Lights. But even on such well-trod territory, the guy has a gift for leaving his own unique imprint on these songs. Leave ‘em wanting more? Sure! But also: more is better. Maybe next time, Molina will give us just a little bit more.