Release Date: Aug 26, 2014
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
As J Mascis transcends from mere grunge-rock pioneer to bona fide guitar hero/legend, it’s an interesting time to assess just what it is that has kept his singular brand of fretboard mastery so appealing. Amidst the huge catalog of material he’s written and released with Dinosaur Jr., Mascis has supplied equal parts electric-shred yin to subtly brilliant acoustic yang, offering both mellow yelps of longing and grumpy whines as toppings for great rock ‘n’ roll. On his second solo record, Tied to a Star, Mascis molds yet another subdued prism through which to glimpse his rare genius as a guitarist and songwriter.
Dinosaur Jr mastermind J Mascis’ second solo album is categorised by steel-stringed acoustics and mid-tempo folk, following 2011’s ‘Several Shades Of Why’ as a departure from his band’s back catalogue of fuzz-laden joyrides. ‘Me Again’ sets a sun-baked tone as twinkling chords create a foundation for a sublime climax of soaring strings and soft falsetto. ‘Heal The Star’’s descent into a sitar-fuelled Eastern breakdown is an unexpected touch of the exotic, while Dinosaur Jr purists will be thrilled as ‘Every Morning’ rips through three sprawling solos in less than four minutes.
With Several Shades Of Why, his 2011 solo debut album, Dinosaur Jr mainman J Mascis proved that he’s just as capable of writing tender, heartfelt songs as cranking his amp up to 11 and indulging in some disgustingly good, ear-shatteringly loud guitar noise. His second solo record is another collection of gentle gems that are both laidback and lovely. Mascis’ voice is naturally wistful and, combined with the easy-going melodies of these 10 tracks, it makes for a dreamy, nostalgic and relaxing musical journey.
J. Mascis' 2014's solo effort Tied to a Star follows the formula set down by 2011's Several Shades of Why, with acoustic guitars dominating the performances rather than his usually punishing electric attack, and the songs favoring gentler lyrical and melodic themes than is Mascis' stock in trade in Dinosaur Jr. But Several Shades of Why was a fine album and Tied to a Star is one of those rare examples of a sequel being every bit as satisfying as the original.
Ordinarily J Mascis is found fronting Dinosaur Jr, a band that positively thrives on fuzzed tones, unbelievable licks, and shredding guitar solos. When seeing them live, Mascis is surrounded by a wall of Marshall stacks that enshroud him in waves of cacophonous noise. His interviews appear to be guarded and tentative affairs, with him providing little more than the bare minimum required to constitute a response.
The idea of J Mascis saddling up for an acoustic set will be anathema even to some of his own fans. Throughout the late eighties, Mascis and his band Dinosaur Jr. virtually single-handedly restored lead guitar to alternative rock, along with injecting the genre with a healthy dose of fuzz and squall. Here, the Amherst, Massachusetts native goes unplugged in what some might see as a dereliction of duty for one of the most revered electric axemen of his generation.
Like Kevin Shields and Dylan Carlson, J Mascis is an indie rock recluse known for taking cover behind immense walls of sound. During Dinosaur Jr.’s heyday in the late 1980s and ‘90s, Mascis’s brittle drawl bowed to the band’s feedback-drenched lo-fi squalor. That was all the better for launching his thunderous guitar work into indie rock orbit.
Here's J Mascis with another batch of understated and partly unplugged tunes for Sub Pop. Mascis surprised everyone with the intimacy of 2011's Several Shades of Why. Despite the often revelatory nature of his lyrics throughout his career, he'll always remain pegged as indie rock's patron saint of awkward aloofness, eternally more eager to stomp on the fuzz pedal than to sit and talk about his process.
An especially cynical assessment of the second formal solo LP by J Mascis could point to some flimsy, confirmation-biased assumption like: “You can hold a spot on the ‘90s indie rock hierarchy or you can embark on a solo endeavor separate from your defining band that stands a chance at true differentiation — but not both. ” That kind of monolithic thinking is never totally fair, but we’ve had no shortage of Robert Pollard or Jicks albums to offer support from time to time. With his 2011 solo debut, Several Shades of Why, J Mascis piled on.
Ever since Dinosaur Jr. reconvened nearly a decade ago, J Mascis has favored his Martin almost as much as his Jazzmaster. In fact, if you don’t count reissues of the band’s 1980s albums, his acoustic output has nearly matched the three full-band albums that each justified the reunion and then some. Released in 2006, Live at CBGB’s: The First Acoustic Show made stripping down for a legendary venue sound suitably punk, even if it remains the textbook definition of “For Fans Only.” Much more essential is Several Shades of Why from 2011, Mascis' first true solo album of new material, which featured mainly just Mascis and his Martin.
J Mascis' mostly acoustic new album has all the hallmarks we've come to expect from grown-up indie rockers making solo moves (piano! country flourishes!). But while the music may be growing more mature, Mascis is forever the vulnerable, heart-shredded, yearning boy, singing about his feelings in the same beat-down, reedy falsetto he's used over two-plus decades as Dinosaur Jr.'s leader. And though he plugs in for strategic, ripping solos throughout Tied to a Star, highlights like "Wide Awake" – his perfectly paired duet with Chan Marshall, which barely breaks a whisper – show that Mascis is now as skilled at quiet as he is with loud.
‘Tied to a Star’ is J Mascis’ first acoustic solo album since 1996’s ‘Martin + Me’, and as such it’s relatively different in tone and character to both his last collaborative solo record ‘Several Shades of Why’ as well as the Dinosaur Jr., and J Mascis and the Fog releases from this century. OK, so it’s not one hundred per cent acoustic. There’s the odd electric guitar, for example on the solo for emotive closer ‘Better Plane’ or fuzzy leads on the up-tempo ‘Every Morning’, probably the track of greatest interest for Dinosaur Jr.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Rightly or wrongly, my brain has quite a hard time disentangling the bands Dinosaur Jr and Sugar, and by extension the solo careers of J Mascis and Bob Mould. To make matters worse, I approach this review knowing Bob Mould has a new album out and a 6 Music DJ has just finished playing 'Fire in the City' from that record.
Where his work with Dinosaur Jr. summons all sorts of moods, from primal to punishing, J Mascis’s solo records have been uniformly soft and supple. “Tied to a Star” is Mascis’s second studio album credited solely to him, the bookend to 2011’s underrated “Several Shades of Why” and a continuation of that album’s acoustic alchemy. Mascis doesn’t just go unplugged here; he pulls back the curtain to reveal a troubadour at his most vulnerable.
Since the return of the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup in 2007 with the instantly classic Beyond, J Mascis and company have been on a roll. His immediately recognizable guitar stylings are no longer only a defining characteristic of Dinosaur Jr. albums, but a key reference point in indie rock’s critical discourse.
J Mascis — Tied to a Star (Sub Pop)J Mascis has one of the most recognizable guitar tones in rock music, the buzz and moan of his strung-out, sustained tone solos instantly identifiable whether appearing in his own music or in cameos for a bewildering array of other artists — Strands of Oak, Dead Confederate, Jeffrey Lewis, Mew and lots of others. It’s such a signature sound that you couldn’t blame him for milking it, and god knows, it would be a very sad thing if we never heard it again. Still, it’s fantastic to hear him doing something completely different, as he does on this almost entirely acoustic album.
The first words you're likely to hear in relation to J Mascis' Tied To A Star are, "acoustic" and "country folk". Indeed, this album, co-produced with Dinosaur Jr. collaborator John Agnello, was made by using acoustic guitars, bass and drums – the instrumental signifiers that common for these genres. But, to call it "folk" or "acoustic" would be to foolishly imply that it's recorded in the laid back style often credited to these words.
J Mascis Tied to a Star (Sub Pop) A departure from his pulverizing guitar blasts in Dinosaur Jr., J Mascis' predominantly acoustic sophomore LP contrasts in soft simplicity. Unrushed, with fragile folk fingerpicking, Tied to a Star is also unconfined, the shred deity still shaking off electrifying riffs at his discretion, as on "Trailing Off" and the buoyant "Every Morning." A hushed duet with Chan Marshall, "Wide Awake" shines brightest on her smoky whir. Since comparisons are inevitable, what's missing is the hard/soft polarity present in Dino albums; alongside the trio's cranked volume and skull-splitting solos, Mascis' vocals rarely exceed a reserved croak, creating a workable emotive dichotomy.