Release Date: Nov 9, 2018
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
When Dinosaur Jr. roared into existence in the mid-'80s, "subtle" was the last word anyone would have used to describe them, between the overpowering volume of J Mascis' guitar work and the addled shrug of his vocals. But three decades on, nuance is something Mascis has learned to do very well; on 2011's Several Shades of Why and 2014's Tied to a Star, he stripped back his sound to its framework, put the emphasis on acoustic guitars, and demonstrated the hidden strengths of his songwriting while developing a new gift for articulation when lower volume gave his voice fewer places to hide.
Anyone who's seen Dinosaur Jr. any time recently can attest to the fact that they remain admirably full-throttle about their sonic approach; earplugs are still advisable, as the veterans continue to tear through their sets with blistering volume and breakneck pace. Frontman J Mascis' solo work in recent years has flown under the radar a little, but it really shouldn't have.
As you race around perpetually preparing for the future, you miss the crystalising intricacies of the here and now, the peace found pausing to take stock, or to do nothing at all. As momentum grows and lives change, friendships falter when you forget to remember what made them so special in the first place. J Mascis ' latest solo album Elastic Days is full of references to time; navigating faded paths, reflecting, contemplating, yearning for what is to come.
Dinosaur Jr. didn't reunite so much as reset. Since the mid-2000s, J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph have essentially picked up where they left off after 1988's college-radio touchstone Bug, reasserting themselves as indie rock's most ferocious and slackadasically tuneful power trio. But their reconciliation erected a wall around the more exploratory path that Dinosaur Jr.
It’s one of the most recognisable, and oddly endearing, sounds in modern alt-rock – J Mascis‘ anguished sigh of a voice, which sounds like he’s always thinking that staying in bed most of the day is preferable to… well, just about anything else. You’d think it wouldn’t be an attractive sound, especially in a man in his sixth decade, but like The Wedding Present‘s David Gedge, Mascis’ unconventional voice has its own type of beauty and is perfectly suited to his songs. That voice is usually buried beneath an avalanche of guitar noise in Mascis’ day job as leader of Dinosaur Jr: a band that has survived a number of versions and are currently on their 11th studio album.
A solo J Mascis LP can feel like a bit of a hard sell these days. As the frontman for the long reformed Dinosaur Jr, J Masics is probably mostly known for his fiery shredding guitar solos and it is these, rather than his talents as a lyricist or the rather nasal whine of his singing voice that would bring most Dinosaur Jr fans flocking to a new release. So how well does his solo work come across, with a more stripped down feel to it, relying more on lightly strummed acoustic guitars? The answer is pretty damn well actually.
The "acoustic" album, more often than not, is a risky move. Yet, on J Mascis' latest solo, "acoustic" album, Elastic Days, the immortal indie shredder regresses into a catastrophically vulnerable state of mind. If you're seeking the discordant noise of Dinosaur Jr.'s catalogue, this is in no way the album for you. Instead, Mascis retreats to his mellow, undisturbed ways of Several Shades of Why and Tied to a Star, never flamboyant or over the top.
Since his emergence in the mid-1980s as Dinosaur Jr.‘s frontman, J Mascis has served as a paragon of the “slacker rock” aesthetic. Given his prolificacy over the last three decades, that label now feels like a bit of a misnomer, but it’s also easy to see why it’s stuck: Mascis, with his laconic drawl of a singing voice and mostly static pool of influences, makes music that exudes an untroubled placidity that’s tempting to mistake for laziness. Elastic Days, Mascis’s third solo album, does little at first to dispel this impression.
The evolution of J Mascis from distortion-fuelled grunge overlord into introspective acoustic wizard has been one of American music's more remarkable recent transitions. Starting in 2011 with 'Several Shades Of Why' the guitarist has unplugged his Big Muff and opted for something quieter, but no less distinct. 'Elastic Days' is his third album in this guise, and it's a plaintive, poetic, and endlessly endearing return, a sign that the acoustic well, while previously untapped, remains brimming with inspiration.