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. But now we’re meeting a new side of the veteran guitar god – a gentle, delicate and altogether more acoustic Mascis.
Several Shades of Why, Mascis’ first fully solo record, has been in gestation since the recording of J Mascis and The Fog’s 2002 album Free So Free. Perhaps the delay was a slight reticence to strip back the fuzz and lay bare his voice, accompanied by little more than an acoustic guitar and a few trusty friends (Kurt Vile, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Sophie Trudeau of A Silver Mt. Zion among them). If that’s the case, he needn’t have worried. Several Shades of Why is an evocative collection of simple, elegant campfire songs, and proof that Mascis’ appeal lies in solid songcraft rather than just raw power.
One of the most charming things about Dinosaur Jr. is the ever-present sense of youthful abandon despite the band’s advancing years. Well, the abandon may have been tempered on Several Shades of Why, but Mascis’ eternal youth has survived intact. Tracks like Not Enough and Listen to Me have a wistful edge, but they’re joined by the kind of freewheeling strumming and direct, plaintive lyricism that makes them more reminiscent of the first fumblings of a teenager in love than the concerns of a 45-year-old rock legend.
Is It Done finds Mascis’ weathered voice partnered perfectly by the honeyed backing vocals of Bridwell, and the gorgeous, idyllic title-track seems to radiate the half-remembered sunshine of some halcyon adolescence. The clouds encroach on the clear skies a little towards the end of the album with the brooding Can I, but if you’re revisiting your teenage years you can’t avoid a little angst.
All in all, Several Shades of Why drifts by like the caress of a summer breeze, and when the sun finally comes out, you could do a lot worse than finding a park and letting it roll over you.