J Mascis, Several Shades of Why

J Mascis, Several Shades of Why

I suppose it’s only appropriate that J Mascis, the king of the slackers, released his first solo studio album after 25 years of guitar-lacerating band recordings. An almost entirely acoustic album, Several Shades of Why stretches his talents in new directions, with pretty, folkish melodies, less guitar soloing, and none of his precious drums. It’s a drastic change from J’s previous efforts, but it’s no less interesting. In ways, it’s even more striking than his electric material, because it allows the subtlety and delicacy of his singing and playing to emerge. The result is compelling.

The melodies are undeniably his, and they are as strong as any of his best electric songs. Maybe it was reuniting with Lou and Murph in Dinosaur Jr. that inspired it, but for whatever reason, he’s been on a roll since 2007’s Beyond, writing lots of great songs again. And there are a bunch of terrific songs here too. Several Shades of Why is as strong as any Dinosaur Jr. album.

And the songs here are different, simpler, and more melodically-oriented than in his electric music. Hey, they even have harmonies! The songs are more stripped-down here than on any of his other records, just one or two acoustic guitars on some songs. But that’s all he needs, especially with songs like “Several Shades Of Why” and “Not Enough.” “Several Shades Of Why” is rightfully the title track, featuring the most memorable melody here, sorrowful and haunting, and with a striking fingerpicked guitar part, beautiful harmonies, and a perfectly laconic violin lines. And “Not Enough” is a fun, energetic romp worthy of the Flying Burrito Brothers, with thoughtfully-arranged harmonies, simple driving guitar strumming, and a cool guitar lick.

Several Shades of Why is undeniably beautiful. And the other contributors add mightily to the album. J was enjoying himself, here, and it came across clearly in the recording. Some newer and older collaborators, including Kurt Vile, Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), and Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), make the album unique, one that will reward repeated listening down the road. Considering it took J 25 years to release his first solo album, here’s hoping it won’t take him another 25 years to do the next one.

(Feature photo by Timothy Herzog.)

(Sub Pop Records -- 2013 Fourth Avenue, Third Floor, Seattle, WA. 98121; http://www.subpop.com; J Mascis -- http://jmascis.com/)
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Review by . Review posted Thursday, September 8th, 2011. Filed under Features, Reviews.

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