After they had made their return to fame with 2007’s stellar Beyond, Dinosaur Jr. was easily identified as one of the best line-ups of musicians around. Headlining that outfit is singer/guitarist J Mascis, whose unique style has already proven that he is without doubt, one of the finest guitarists around. And with 2009’s Farm, the trio proved that there was no denying their true knack at writing the killer tune.
That album’s opener, “Pieces,” presents a vicious Mascis solo that trembles with bite and grit; all the while the singer’s unmistakable voice swooning over the haziness. For his solo debut, Mascis has opted for a mostly acoustic album, one that opens up his style for further scrutiny – fortunately, Several Shades of Why is the kind of spin-off album that one can embrace and fully support.
Usually, it’s probably hated on for an artist to make a solo album that, mostly, doesn’t really sound much different/better from what his current band does. This has happened in the past with artists like Paul Banks and Julian Casablancas, respectively, and while the latter’s album was a deservingly good album, it was obvious that maybe some change could’ve been good. While Several Shades of Why isn’t exactly a lifting explosion of greatness in comparison to something as awesome as Beyond or Farm, it’s a sweetly new celebrated sound to Mascis’ already in-depth arsenal. Fittingly, Mascis begins it all with “Listen to Me”’s appropriately titled crystal-clear beauty and, to a new listener, this could all seem like a different musician altogether. Glistening with a shine that is largely refreshing and never mundane, Several Shades of Why is a triumph all its own.
Like the adorable image that adorns the cover of the album, the music often travels on a downtrodden, almost melancholy trip. You can listen to sections and hear the J Mascis trademarks like his singular voice, his guitar’s melodic timbre and the wonderful songwriting, but it’s definitely a much starker presentation than what can be found with Dinosaur Jr. The creatures’ sad eyes portray a gloomy ceremony and while the music on Several Shades of Why is often humbly soft, it’s also mostly downright gorgeous. You can possibly go back to a time on “I Got Lost” and hear some of this reserved quietness creeping through but it was never at this level of fortitude. Interestingly enough, “Very Nervous and Love” seems to borrow that aforementioned song’s style but alone, Mascis has also shed away a lot of the fogginess that Dinosaur Jr. is known for. His voice sounds a bit clearer and the music is just as equally foreboding.
By the time the ten songs have slowly crept into your life, there is bound to be some kind of missing feeling for the bigger picture. There are small glimpses of electronic guitar, like on the moving “Can I” and its tandem guitar part, and on “Is It Done” as Mascis pleads to wait for him as he comes along. The simple lushness of the music and how it’s able to transform even within the walls of what appears to be an ‘acoustic song’ is remarkable. On the latter, he brings his electronic guitar on for a memorable solo and, though it’s mostly due to the fact that it’s a rarity on an album that is mostly about the hush-side of life, Mascis conveys yet another notion for consideration. Mascis does a superb job of firmly establishing that this is his music and though guest artists make timely contributions, there is no denying who is the star of this show.
“Not Enough” by J Mascis