J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why

Release Date 14/03/2011 (Sub Pop)

Review by Paul Robinson

Several Shades Of WhyI was quite excited to hear J Mascis is finally releasing a solo album – although I’d always thought of his other post Dinosaur Jr. albums as mainly solo efforts. Still, the thought of a solo album is an interesting prospect, and I thought it might be not unlike his previous work with Dinosaur and The Fog.

That was until I’d read the press sheet that came with the LP, having not picked up on the advance release news from Sub Pop. In reality it’s about as far removed from much of his previous work as you could get. It’s nearly all acoustic, with a bit of fuzz, and no drumming at all. But before we get into that, what’s the background to one of the most laid back musician’s long awaited first solo studio record?

Essentially, the germ of a solo record came out of the solo shows J was performing in the early 2000s, but typically it’s taken 10 years to actually get around to recording the album. Despite the length of the gestation period, the majority of the songs are new.  Helped out by a number of friends and musicians, the album was recorded in Amherst, Mascis’ hometown, at Bisquiteen studios.

I’ll be honest, I’m not a massive fan of acoustic, singer-songwriter albums, but this one really works. J’s rasping voice is perfect for an album of West Coast hippyism and English folk pastoral rumination.

The album’s not totally acoustic ‘Acoustic’ – it is J Mascis after all – and on ‘Where Are You’ there’s a low key electric acoustic solo motif, and, of course, a smattering of fuzz here and there.  It’s an album of delicate beauty. The title track is played simply on acoustic guitar accompanied by violin. ‘Not Enough’ has a simple vocal harmony, and some delicate guitar picking which lifts the song from plain introspection. There’s a comparison with Nick Drake or David Crosby and I think it’s a favourable one.

Even the album’s artwork fits the slightly alternate take on the solo acoustic album, with two furry gonks standing atop a giant furry turtle in a manner reminiscent of Pete Fowler’s Monsterism otherworld.

After 25 years or so since starting Dinosaur Jr, J Mascis may have produced the finest album of his career.

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