MOLLY ‘Picturesque’ Album Review

Good golly, this MOLLY album is beautiful. MOLLY are a duo from Innsbruck, Austria who play an especially majestic style of dream-pop with a post-rock approach to structure and scope. They’ve been described as a shoegaze band before, including on this website, but on MOLLY’s new album Picturesque, there’s not much of the noise and distortion that term implies. There’s also the question of posture; despite the many effects pedals in play, this album is diametrically opposed to staring blankly at your feet. Lars Andersson and drummer Phillip Dornauer make music for throwing out your arms and beholding the heavens, fit for old ornate cathedrals and prismatic dwellings of the imagination.

On their 2019 debut album All That Ever Could Have Been, MOLLY were basically a Sigur Rós tribute band. It’s an influence they wear proudly — a press release described their most recent single as “Sigur Rós on steroids” — and it remains strong on Picturesque, whether Lars Andersson is emulating Jonsi’s whale-call falsetto on opener “Ballerina” or the band is evoking the tempestuous pounding of ( ) finale “Popplagið” on their own closing track “The Lot.” The often glacial pace, the expansive breathtaking beauty, the feeling that you’re hearing chamber music from beyond this world: It all traces back to Iceland’s finest. But more than on previous outings, glimmers of other greats shine into MOLLY’s music. They’re figuring out how to translate their influences into a sound of their own, one they wield spectacularly throughout these six tracks.

MOLLY’s songs aren’t as bleak and foreboding as your average Sigur Rós track. Even at their most pensive or emotionally fraught, on Picturesque they often conjure a soaring, glittering sensation comparable to Slowdive or Alcest. The band has cited inspirations ranging from noise-rock royalty Swans to psych-pop festival-killers Pond to trembling folk-pop balladeer Daniel Johnston, and all of those references come into focus upon knowing them. If you’re wondering how lo-fi singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston factors into a band so obsessed with splendor, I can hear him in Andersson’s less celestial vocal turns. Singing in English, the MOLLY vocalist refracts back an expressive range of reference points within the indie and folk-rock sphere, sometimes mirroring fragile yet powerful 2000s blog-rockers like Daniel Rossen, Avey Tare, or the Notwist’s Markus Acher. This is especially true on “Sunday Kid,” a relatively lo-fi quickie on which Andersson’s vocals are buried under blurry waves of fuzzed-out keyboard.

“Sunday Kid” is an outlier in form and texture on an album that tends toward multi-segmented sprawl and pristine clarity. Andersson says Picturesque was guided by the credo of “more is more.” Even “Ballerina,” which begins the new album on a surprisingly brief and immediate note, manages to feel regal, celestial, and expansive in about four minutes. So imagine what MOLLY can pull off on the subsequent “Metamorphosis,” which goes silent three and a half minutes in before revving back up for another nine minutes of slow-build grandeur. At just under eight minutes, lead single “The Golden Age” splits the difference, launching with brisk ominous elegance before piling on all kinds of orchestration and layers of crushing guitar. The choice between going big and going home isn’t a choice at all for these guys.

Every song on Picturesque contains elements from a different Romantic-era fairy tale interwoven with autobiography — a perfectly too-much creative process for a band that often goes gorgeously over the top. But as with so many of MOLLY’s foundational influences, the words are secondary, possibly even irrelevant. Picturesque is first and foremost a chance to be overwhelmed by elegance and power and an otherworldly glow. With dreamy post-rock epics like these, the point is to be swept away into a fantasy all your own. MOLLY kick up intense emotions, and you infuse those feelings with your own meaning. It’s a storied tradition, and right now MOLLY are among its finest practitioners.

Picturesque is out 1/13 on Sonic Cathedral.

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