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J Mascis – Several Shades of Why

J Mascis, Several Shades of Why

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

J MASCIS may traditionally be known for fuzzy, larger-than-life guitar riffs when in Dinosaur Jr guise but for his debut solo offering he strips things back and proves equally mesmerising.

Several Shades of Why is a great album and – perhaps even more amazingly – a complete surprise. It’s unquestionably a J Mascis production by virtue of his distinct, broke-down voice.

But the music here is tender and mostly acoustic, bar the odd violin or fuzzy electric riff. There are no drums. But what results is often lush, laidback and effortlessly charismatic, even when sounding haunted.

There are elements of folk, some nods to classic performers such as Nick Drake, and shades of both English folk and America’s West Coast in the various compositions. Better yet, it’s the sort of offering you don’t really want to end.

Album opener Listen To Me sets the tone, shaping some lovely acoustic guitar work around a husky but tender vocal in which Mascis professes he can’t wait to see a loved one… albeit tinged with past regrets and pain (“pain is what we do”).

But the feeling that you’re about to hear something really special only begins to kick in on follow-up and title track Several Shades of Why, in which some terrific guitar riffs duet with Sophie Trudeau’s violin and Mascis adopts a Nick Drake style. It’s a moment that beguiles and enchants in equal measure and the inclusion of Trudeau’s violin is a master-stroke.

Former single [and IndieLondon record of the week] Not Enough then dusts off a West Coast vibe and layers on the backing vocals to terrific effect, dropping in a lovely chorus along the way, while Very Nervous and Love contains echoes of Terry Reid’s The River amid its stark guitar work and lost lyrics. Again, the chorus is a gem.

The quality is maintained on another of the album’s highlights, Is It Done, which even possesses a wistful cinematic vibe that belies the simplicity of its acoustic instrumentals, and Make It Right, which broadens the sound to include some lovely flute, the odd bit of lap steel and some slide GTR from Kurt Vile. If there’s a hippy vibe accompanying the flute, then it’s probably intentional, giving it a retro feel more befitting the ‘70s.

There’s a youthful sense of adventure and confusion surrounding the breezy Where Are You, which finds Mascis running to ‘where you are’, before Mascis flies totally solo on the acoustic Too Deep, a dusky campfire ballad of immense charm.

The album is then drawn to a close with the double header of Can I, which builds from a sharp combination of acoustics and a striking electric riff to include some disarming clarinet and another wistful vocal, and final track What Happened, which again thrives on the instrumental layering offered by GTR, flute and optigan. It’s the closest thing the album gets to a rock-out and draws things to a close perfectly.

Several Shades of Why is an album that Mascis has been seeking to make for some time and was recorded with the help of just a few friends (Trudeau, Vile, Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses, Kurt Fedora, Pall Jenkins, Matt Valentine and Suzanne Thorpe) – but it’s well worth the wait.
In short, Mascis has turned out something quite mercurial.

Download picks: Several Shades of Why, Not Enough, Is It Done, Make It Right, Where Are You, Too Deep, Can I, What Happened

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Track listing:

  1. Listen To Me
  2. Several Shades of Why
  3. Not Enough
  4. Very Nervous And Love
  5. Is It Done
  6. Make It Right
  7. Where Are You
  8. Too Deep
  9. Can I
  10. What Happened

  1. J Mascis is a genius. This should come as no surprise.

    Ben    Mar 14    #