ALBUM REVIEW: The Heartfelt Nostalgia of Tony Molina’s Tapes from San Mateo County

Bay Area indie artist Tony Molina has always had either foot in two worlds, which is perhaps the only obvious observation one might make about him. He maintains deep ties to the punk and hardcore scenes in which he cut his teeth, having played with bands like Healer, Caged Animal, and Bone Sickness in the past. He evades definition, however, in that his solo work is audibly a far cry from these genres. He pens earnest power-pop ballads with soaring guitar solos and melancholic lyrics about lost love and forgotten friendships, more akin to Weezer or The Replacements than the powerviolence and hardcore sounds of his other projects. 

His latest release is a rarities collection put out by Smoking Room Records Friday, July 19, entitled Songs From San Mateo County. Over the years, Molina has lessened the vocal distortion and heavy reverb of previous releases for a cleaner sound, but has held onto the tender lyricism, cheeky guitar riffs and short song lengths – each track clocks in at under two minutes. The tracks on this collection are for the most part unheard until now, unable to be streamed and only available on analog cassette releases: “Where’d You Go,” “Not The Way To Be,” “Can’t Find My Way” and “Separate Ways” all appeared on 2014 cassette West Bay Grease, and “I’m Not Down” appeared on 2008 recording Embarrassing Times, both put out on Molina’s own Bay Area label 650 Tapes.

Molina wishes we’d all stop talking about how short his songs are, saying in an interview years ago that he was “sick of that shit,” but it’s hard not to. It’s the greatest, and most plainly apparent, evidence of his hardcore roots. And it makes sense, in that hardcore music is more about the emotiveness of the sound than the content itself – the searing, fast instrumentals and the screamed, oftentimes dark but incoherent lyrics are ephemeral in time but strong in message. They are supposed to feel a certain way: angry, anxious, disillusioned. Molina takes this stylistic device and applies it to these wistful songs to create a different type of feeling but a feeling all the same, one of nostalgia and longing. It doesn’t matter that he trades songs among releases, because it’s about the big picture. The collection is bookended with an instrumental intro and outro; the intro gears us up with a power-pop riff while the outro melts into a twinkling surf rock ditty, the end credits of a heartfelt movie, music you ride off into the sunset to. As a unit, all fourteen tracks contribute to a fifteen-minute whole of a sentiment, or even the memory of a sentiment, rather than units in and of themselves. These songs are evergreen, containing emotion so universal as to mean the same thing in 2008 as in 2019, albeit evoked by different circumstances. After all, on track “Been Here Before,” Molina observes: “The more I change, the more I stay the same.”