ALBUM REVIEW: J Mascis | Several Shades Of Why

written by Chris Familton

J Mascis solo versus J Mascis guitarist/singer of Dinosaur Jr isn’t the massive shift in rock that you would expect from someone who trades in extremes of texture, noise, sonics and melody with that band. He has dropped the drums, dialed back the bite and growl of his distortion pedals (for the most part) and brought his plaintive, aching voice to the fore but it is still immediately recognisable as J Mascis.

Several Shades of Why can give the impression of sameness and a loose meander at first but by listen #3 the secrets and gems rise to the surface and an absolute classic record emerges. Listen To Me is a deceiving opener with its simple structure and gentle warm strum yet it works to enhance the impact of the following title track with its beautiful, weeping riff and the unexpected and soothing sound of strings. This is Mascis at his gentlest and folkiest and it works wonderfully.

Mascis voice always sounds like a woolly jumper – all cosy, worn and familiar – and here it fills that description even more so. The yearning tone and the way he rises into a thinner falsetto a la Neil Young are two of the elements that make his singing so damn emotive, even if his lyrical content never strays far from affairs of the heart, indecision and confusion. He reins in a few friends to help him out on Several Shades Of Why and they are great additions, particularly the backing vocals of Ben Bridwell (Band Of Horses) Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene) and Kurt Vile on Not Enough. They add a country sing-a-long mood to the song and give it a real communal swing that Mascis doesn’t always possess on his own.

The theme of questions manifests itself all over the album and so it probably seemed like a foregone conclusion for Mascis to name it Several Shades of Why. He constantly queries and ponders everything from the mysteries of love to the basic confusion of existence and though he rarely provides answers it matters little when the result is such bittersweet songwriting.

Is It Done shows that Mascis can’t keep a great guitar solo down. The killer distorted solo that comes in two thirds of the way through the track is the closest thing on the album to the sonic buzz of Dinosaur Jr. It somehow sits perfectly with its acoustic surrounds and leaves before it overshadows the subtle beauty of the song. The closer What Happened revisits the same concept of disparate guitar sounds working in harmony and it is just as effective at tugging on melodic heartstrings.

The one track that Mascis allows to stretch beyond the five minute mark is the slow and dark Can I displaying an overt Neil Young influence both in his voice and the way he walks the fine line between electric and acoustic moods and sounds. Strings twang and rattle like open wounds while Mascis is content to let his fingers create the narrative as much as his voice. Like Young’s epic moments Can I feels like it could and should drift on endlessly.

Mascis has proved with this album that he can step back from the wall of amps and racks of effects pedals to reveal songs that can convey as much their heavier cousins. These songs may be more exposed and at times fragile but they carry themselves just as majestically as anything in Mascis’ back catalogue.

this review first appeared on FasterLouder

J Mascis | Not Enough:

One thought on “ALBUM REVIEW: J Mascis | Several Shades Of Why

  1. Pingback: DS Top 50 LPs of 2011 « Doubtful Sounds

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