J Mascis - Several Shades of Why - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

J Mascis - Several Shades of Why

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2011-03-14

When J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph returned to the fray in 2007 with Beyond, it filled a Dinosaur Jr shaped hole in all our lives. No one quite does it like the Dinos, y'see, and it's doubtful anyone ever will. They followed this up with the excellent Farm album and Mascis even found time to make musical guest appearances (including on Jeffrey Lewis' album 'Em Are I) and rock out a bit with Sweet Apple. Several Shades of Why is something altogether different however. The main difference being that Mascis has traded in his beloved electric guitar and trademark feedback squall for - brace yourselves - an acoustic guitar and quiet, melancholic arrangements. In a way it shouldn't really come as such a surprise; his songs with Dinosaur Jr always had a kind of wounded sensitivity under the layers of fuzzy feedback. That suspected sensitivity is fully exposed here and the results are pretty great.

Opening track 'Listen to Me' gives credence to Mascis being the 90s alt-rock Neil Young. It's a deceptively simple acoustic track that puts Mascis right there in the room with you. "Listen to me, I can't wait to see you… but waiting's what we do," croons Mascis. It's a disarmingly tender track and sets the tone nicely. The title track is a delicate ballad, with finger-picked acoustics and gentle string arrangements. It's pretty far away from anything he's done with his day job, almost recalling Nick Drakes' Bryter Layter.

Next track 'Not Enough' is an early album highlight. The music's jaunty optimism counterbalancing Mascis' naturally melancholic timbre as he sings, "Can we be love? Can we be free? Can we be all those things you said to me?" Where Dinosaur Jr often soundtracked those moments of confusion and self-doubt, albeit masked in fuzzy rock 'n' roll, Several Shades of Why at times approaches something like contentment. Having said that, the next track, 'Very Nervous and Love', sees a heartbroken Mascis singing, "…I tried my only hand and I tried to keep it simple, you just couldn't understand". It's a sparse track yet retains a graceful quality even with Mascis seemingly at his lowest ebb. As he sings, "Tell me why'd you go? Tell Me 'cos I'm nervous…" you realise this is the same stuff he's been singing for years, just more exposed, more upfront.

Some of the songs, unsurprisingly, sound like acoustic renditions of lost Dinosaur Jr tracks. You can imagine how 'Is It Done' would sound with the full Dinosaur Jr backing raging behind Mascis but then those country tinged guitars come in and it's perfect how it is. 'Make It Right' is a sleepy, hazy, lullaby of a tune while the simple, sweet sentiments of 'Where are You' make it one of the album's most instantly enjoyable moments.

'Too Deep' is just over two minutes of simple, sparse reflections as Mascis sings, "Turn your stick into my soul, hasn't changed much getting old". 'Can I' is After The Gold Rush era Neil Young, while 'What Happened' is a gorgeously languid tune, replete with hazy (acoustic) fuzz that closes proceedings perfectly.

Mascis is making it clear what we already should have known: the man's a first class songwriter and one of the enduring voices of the 80s/90s alt-rock revolution. There's a subtlety to Several Shades of Why that makes it an incredibly endearing listen. Don't fear the acoustics people. Great stuff.

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