Release Date: Mar 15, 2011
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
One of these aforementioned shades would serve well to find out why J Mascis hasn’t been releasing solo studio records his entire career. He’s exercised a certain level of control over Dinosaur Jr.’s output all along, anyway. Several Shades of Why is almost entirely acoustic, prominently featuring Mascis’ cask-aged holler and stellar songcraft.
These don’t go to 11… It’s hard to believe that—after 25 years of squalling guitar rock with Dinosaur Jr and a slew of other bands (from The Fog to Witch)—J Mascis is just now releasing his first proper solo album, and that it’s a laid-back acoustic record. But, after listening to Several Shades of Why, it’s even harder to believe he hasn’t explored this format more often. His maximum rock ’n’ roll six-string shredding morphs exceptionally well into this album’s earthy, forlorn picking, and J’s lazy, just-rolled-outta-bed croon—set against the stripped-bare backdrop of acoustic guitars and cellos and jingling tambourines—is pure magic.
Dinosaur Jr. is a band synonymous with noise, to such a degree that they really exist within their own genre - many attempt to imitate but very few succeed. However, the reason they stand alone, untouched, is that buried beneath the squealing mass of guitars and feedback snarl has always laid a softer, almost vulnerable sense of melody and vocal delivery.
J. Mascis is one of the few guitarists on the planet who can play solo after extended solo without it sounding like a pointless exercise in masturbatory showmanship. This might be something to do with the fact that he appears unable to communicate effectively through the usual means of speech. It’s as if he’s bottling everything up, until he’s finally able to unleash his feelings by firing off multiple shards of glorious guitar noise.
Despite being best known for the skull-crushing volume of his work with Dinosaur Jr., J. Mascis has dabbled in acoustic music in the past, most notably on his 1996 album Martin + Me (Martin being his acoustic guitar). But Several Shades of Why is easily his most accomplished and best-crafted acoustic album to date, as well as one of his most tightly focused collections in years.
A beautifully fragile acoustic record. We last encountered J Mascis playing drums in his friends’ band Sweet Apple. Typically then, on what is, believe it or not, his first solo album, he’s done away with drums all together. The result is a beautifully fragile acoustic record that positions him as the missing link between Kurt Cobain and Johnny Cash.
J MASCIS plays the Great Hall Friday (March 11) at 11 pm as part of CMW. See listing. Rating: NNNN You wouldn't expect a guy whose concerts involve stacks upon stacks of amps to be a king of understatement, but on his first official solo album J Mascis, erstwhile leader of Dinosaur Jr., offers a surprisingly subtle set of acoustic folk rock. Mascis famously referred to Dinosaur Jr.'s style as "ear-bleeding country," yet without the piles of electric sludge, Mascis's music is more in line with just country.
On Dinosaur Jr.'s self-titled 1985 debut, J Mascis sang, "I never try that much 'cause I'm scared of feeling." Over the last 26 years, Mascis has produced a number of guitar-rock touchstones, yet it's been tough to tell exactly how much effort and emotion has gone into his work. Cited as one of the original slackers, his demeanor is infamously laconic to the point of aloofness; even as he peels off some of the most ear-busting guitar solos you've ever heard live, he sometimes looks like he's about to doze off while doing so. Meanwhile, his words-- usually involving vague alienation and confusion-- are often drowned out by the ungodly squall behind him.
J Mascis has released a few albums solely under his own name. Back in 1996, Martin + Me consisted of acoustically reworked Dinosaur Jr. songs and assorted covers. (Live at CBGB's from the same year is similar in content.) In 2005, Mascis released J + Friends Sing + Chant for Amma, a six-song album devoted to the Indian saint Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi, but that was mostly a curiosity and never saw wide release.
So much for guitar hero J Mascis, at least for this record. The guy known for shredding up front in Dinosaur Jr. is taking a different approach to his first solo studio record, Several Shades of Why. His first album for Sub Pop is all acoustic, hushed throughout, and despite its general lack of rock and roll, the album’s intricate layers and subtle tension create their own energy.
The good news is that, stripped of the safety net of early-’90s sludge and backed by (mostly) acoustic guitars, J’s croak sounds right at home on [b]‘Several Shades Of Why’[/b] (and you can hear the lyrics).The bad news is just that… well, after 20-odd years of that same, relentless fuzz solo, now it’s gone you find yourself missing it. Badly. It’s just so intrinsically linked to that voice.The songs are great, but as titles like [b]‘Not Enough’[/b] and [b]‘Make It Right’[/b] suggest, they’re very much business-as-usual, minus the noise, plus a guest spot from [b]Ben Band Of Horses[/b].
Anyone familiar with Dinosaur Jr.’s outstanding pair of post-reunion tidal waves of distortion, speed and sheer volume in the form of records — 2007’s Beyond and 2009’s Farm — knows Dino-Jay mastermind J. Mascis hasn’t gotten soft in his, well, not old age, but extended tenure as an indie-rock elder … and reigning warlock. If anything, Farm and Beyond have proven that, whether as the slack-jawed voice of the lover-lorn slacker, or as the genre’s seminal and most enduring guitar god, Mascis is as sharp a rock composer — as hell-bent on splitting your ear-drums — and as vital a force as ever.
After they had made their return to fame with 2007’s stellar Beyond, Dinosaur Jr. was easily identified as one of the best line-ups of musicians around. Headlining that outfit is singer/guitarist J Mascis, whose unique style has already proven that he is without doubt, one of the finest guitarists around. And with 2009’s Farm, the trio proved that there was no denying their true knack at writing the killer tune.
Dinosaur Jr. lynchpin’s solo LP drifts by like the caress of a summer breeze. Chris Lo 2011 J Mascis has always made his name on ear-splitting guitar riffs and avalanches of distortion. Whether with Dinosaur Jr., the rock‘n’roll behemoth for which he’s most famous, or the many side projects and collaborations he has worked on over the years, the sheer volume of his music tends to be the abiding, bludgeoning theme.
In embracing the ragged, early-1970s acoustic eclecticism of Crosby, Stills, Nash and/or Young, Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis turns a corner few could've predicted in 1987. Several Shades of Why is a poignant meditation on loss and where to go from here and what makes it more than just a competent confessional from a graying alt-rock icon are the sonic odds and ends. Mascis gets help from house guests including Kurt Vile and Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell, but the album unfolds like a solitary pursuit.