Impala, quite simply, is Songs: Ohia at its most rudimentary. That is, the album finds Jason Molina -- the songwriter, singer, guitarist, and sole constant member of Songs: Ohia -- both developing some of the stark impressionism of his later albums and steadying his gaze on the deceptive simplicity with which he shines a light on his own heart. Or, as he lays it on in the opening lines: "Tonight I am gambling with my sentiment/Tonight I am losing in a crowded room/tonight I am down to my soul."
The broad strokes that Molina paints with guitar and voice (with occasional, strategic, and wonderfully economical drum and organ flourishes courtesy of frequent Songs: Ohia contributor Geof Comings) suggest grand adventure. Bolder and more cocksure than the broken-hearted troubadour of subsequent (or consequent) records such as Axxess & Ace and The Lioness, Molina seems sure, even occasionally funky (as on "East's Heart Divided"). Molina's from the same side of the songwriting tracks as Will Oldham or Mark Kozelek. From the opening, seven-plus-minute salvo of Spartan, 5 a.m. introspection of "An Ace Unable to Change" -- with its quiet rolling guitar and organ lines -- to the haunted, rustic trilogy that closes the album, the light that Molina's songwriting lets in is just enough to catch a glimpse of a sepia-toned, nearly forsaken nostalgia. It's beautiful, less-is-more Americana, suggestive more of the hard-bitten folks populating the literary works of authors E. Annie Proulx or Daniel Woodrell than any straight-talking, rhythmic strumming folky troubadour. By the time the dust settles, Impala leaves a sense of longing hanging in the air. A lovely, peeling, chipped record of emotional decay.