Album Review: Songs in the Dark by Mola Mola

Mola Mola wraps heavy lyrics and experimental folk noir muses into brighter colors on the impactful Songs in the Dark, the short-lived Oklahoma City band’s only release.

A message from the Make Oklahoma Weirder team: this article was originally written by Evan Jarvicks in 2019 and is being released as part of MOW’s “VVeirder VVinter Vault” of 2023.

Much like its cover art, Songs in the Dark is an odd bird. It maneuvers through raincloud patches of folk noir and experimental indie rock, dotting serpentine flight paths across a suspiciously colorful sky. It seems to know a storm is coming, and rather than take shelter, it sings into the ominous winds with tragic melodies.

It’s hard to say whether it’s ironic or prophetic that Mola Mola proved to be a short-lived project. Built around the strength of warbly frontman Gabriel Knight Hancock and his offbeat songwriting, the Oklahoma City band took its chances on a volatile cocktail of dark lyrics, bright distortion, and unorthodox arrangements.

Gabriel Knight Hancock
Gabriel Knight Hancock

The introverted project quietly showed up, didn’t garner much attention, then quietly disappeared. It’s the kind of arc Mola Mola would probably mention offhandedly in a verse to a song about a man who used to be in a band and now works for the government.

It’s truly a bummer because Songs in the Dark is incredible. Like the best music, it reveals more of itself with each subsequent listen and leaves the listener with so many memorable moments that it becomes a point of reference beyond itself.

Whether it’s the title track’s self-playing piano, the backdoor society in “Ready”, or drowning people clawing at the ark in “Noah”, there are plenty of haunting images that stick the way lyrics seldom do.

Even so, Mola Mola is not a dismal listen; at times, it sounds outright happy. The chorus to “Watch My Shows”, for example, features cheery keys and a bouncy rock rhythm. Though the opening lyrics to this song are undeniably sad (“In the store, you flew high above the produce / You thought you had your way out as your head hit the window”), the chorus is more than a respite. It is part of the multi-dimensional fabric of light, dark, and the space they share in the middle.

Few elements of Mola Mola capture this complex dynamic like the whirring electronics that garnish its full band sound. Sometimes they flap alongside the songs in strange but amiable tones. Other times, they fitfully pull at them like intrusive beaks yanking worms out of the ground. Most of the time, though, it’s a hybrid of the two, which harkens again to the cover art.

Songs in the Dark is an odd bird, and like the group of musicians from which it was born, it dissolves in anticlimax. Closer “Diamonds to Coal” leans into a final verse that doesn’t show, then hastily resolves its chord progression and ends. Perhaps the bird had more to say. It will remain a mystery. In a way, though, that seems like the appropriate note on which to wrap up.

True understanding of the surreal weather in foreboding skies is always just out of reach because the patterns are always changing, and maybe, in the end, it’s more honest to accept the mystery than to solve it.

aka Jarvix, the Chief Executive Weirdo of Make Oklahoma Weirder. His out-of-the-box music coverage has been published by the Oklahoma Gazette, KOSU, and The Oklahoman among others. He also makes DIY music as a solo multi-instrumentalist live looper in his spare time.

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