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J Mascis - Several Shades of Why

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 6 / 4 / 2011

J Mascis - Several Shades of Why
Label: Sub Pop
Format: CD


Exclusively acoustic and brilliant solo album from Dinosaur Jr. front man, J Mascis

Five years ago, J Mascis seemed to be on the verge of drifting into obscurity. It had been five years since he’d released a record and, in most quarters, he seemed to have been dismissed as a one-trick-pony whose work appealed only to his hardcore fanbase. Nobody disagreed that he was extremely influential. Mascis had emerged from the 80's hardcore scene with a truly unique style - taking the riffs of metal, the snappy rhythms of hardcore and the vocal style of Neil Young, his band Dinosaur Jr. bludgeoned audiences with three colossal Marshall stacks, a fuzz pedal and waves of feedback. The slacker anthem 'Freak Scen'e had Kurt Cobain furiously taking notes, but his influence was even more profound on My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields. Gradually, Mascis invented a new genre. Unfortunately, he did it while alienating his bandmates Murph and Lou Barlow. Barlow, an increasingly confident songwriter himself, eventually left to concentrate on his Sebadoh project. As Barlow won plaudits for his confessional lyrics and snappy tunes, Mascis’ reputation gradually declined. Dinosaur Jr. continued, with Mascis essentially operating as a solo artist. For reasons that weren’t fully clear, he then began to record under a new band name - J Mascis and the Fog. Few noticed, but these two albums were amongst the best work he’s ever recorded. Mascis still had his fuzz box, but his palette had expanded to embrace new-wave pop, folk and blues. Then, came a genuine surprise. The original members of Dinosaur Jr., whose break up had been one of the bitterest in rock music history, had reformed. Unlike contemporaries the Pixies, who clearly were not getting along when they embarked on their lucrative reunion, the ‘original’ Dinosaur Jr recorded two new albums. The second of these, ‘Farm’ was a genuine classic - packed with engaging melodies, thunderous riffs, unexpected twists and (yes) waves of fuzzy feedback. I happen to think that it's not just the best album Dinosaur Jr. have made, but as good as any album ever made by any American band. The sense of occasion seemed to act as a spur to Mascis. He combined the traits that made the early Dinosaur Jr. albums so revered, and coupled with them the expansion he had found as a songwriter since. Furthermore, the reunion freed him from the competition with his old comrade Barlow. Its worth noting that, despite Barlow having a string of classic albums to his name, he contributed just two songs to ‘Farm’. Now that people are listening, its an ideal time for Mascis to release an album that mostly dispenses with his old prop - feedback. ‘Several Shades of Why’ is an (almost) exclusively acoustic record. It sounds like the music Mascis would idly play at home - with his wife and young children about the house. A few friends drop by to lend their hands, but this is clearly J Mascis’ album. So often compared to Neil Young, it makes sense for Mascis to convert to singer songwriter mode. Indeed, he has been playing solo shows for nearly a decade. But he never resorts to lazy strumming. The ambitious fretwork that made ‘Farm’ such an invigorating listen is present here. On another day, ‘Make It Right’ would have enjoyed the full band treatment - but without all the fuzz, Mascis’ natural tunefulness comes to the fore. Its telling that on this song, Mascis can’t resist an electric solo, although distortion is kept to a minimum. But there are plenty of moments that wouldn’t easily translate into Dinosaur songs - as Mascis practices his finger-picking and shows himself a master of breezy pop. Every where I turn, there is a nimble guitar line, a laconic melody or a delightful solo. It’s an album to play over and over again. Just as was the case on the classic ‘Farm’, Mascis comes across as a humble songwriter, seeming to churn out gems with no effort at all. But if it really was easy, everyone would make records this enjoyable. The fact is that nobody else does. ‘Several Shades of Why’ is the latest reason why no-one should imagine that J Mascis stopped producing compelling music in 1989. An absolute gem.

Track Listing:-
1 Listen To Me
2 Several Shades Of Why
3 Not Enough
4 Very Nervous And Love
5 Is It Done
6 Make It Right
7 Where Are You
8 Too Deep
9 Can I
10 What Happened

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Tied to a Star (2014)
Surprisingly understated yet excellent latest solo record from Dinosaur Jr front-man and guitarist, J Mascis

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