J Mascis - Tied To A Star - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

J Mascis - Tied To A Star

by Pete Super Rating:9.5 Release Date:2014-08-25

During the course of a career now stretched over four decades, J Mascis has developed a style of songwriting, recording, and performance that is, to say the least, idiosyncratic - some might say myopic. It is this singular vision that has built his reputation as one of the seminal figures in indie/alt-rock, and kept his output relevant to modern music throughout the years as well.

J was not only an influence on the 1980s contemporaries of Dinosaur Jr who would come to define early indie-rock - Sonic Youth, Pixies, and My Bloody Valentine - but the next wave of early 1990s alt-rockers who would make the genre world famous: Nirvana, Pavement, and Smashing Pumpkins. His sound continues to be sonically name-checked by the best new indie/alt-rock bands in the music of Yuck, Cymbals Eat Guitars, Deerhunter, No Age, and probably most notably in the psychedelic twang of Kurt Vile. Vile, in addition to providing vocals and instrumentation for J's 2011 album, Several Shades of Why, used longtime Mascis collaborator John Agnello to produce his 2013 album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze.

Since the two J Mascis + the Fog records were technically by a band, Tied to a Star is, then, the second proper Mascis studio solo album. Sticking with the 'acoustic guitar up-front' mix used on Several Shades of Why, this time out Mascis has fleshed-out the arrangements with more bass, piano, keys, and electric guitar. Where Several Shades... leaned into chamber-pop, Tied to a Star dials the the strings down and employs more traditional folk/rock arrangements.

Tied to a Star is one of Mascis' finest collections of melodies. Lead-single 'Every Morning' may be the most straightforward pop song he's ever crafted. 'Every Morning' is an interesting anomaly. Here's a song that employs most of the signatures of Mascis' work: a cracking drum-kit, his signature sprawling guitar-leads (J manages to cram in three solos in just under four minutes), and his sweet, mournful, croaking vocal melody. Yet it pulls off the feat of being tender, rocking, and a pop confection simultaneously.

Mascis peppers the record with subtle dynamic shifts in the form of tasteful percussion and some of the most restrained and lovely electric guitar-work he's ever done, as well as touches of subtle synth. Mascis has been a devotee of Hindu guru Amma since the late 1990s, and forays into Indian music accents pop up on 'Heal the Star' and 'Drifter'. The latter being the only instrumental track to appear on any incarnation of a proper Mascis project.

Interlocking gorgeous finger-picked and strummed guitar parts, punctuated by percussion and E-bow guitar accents, add an earnest beauty to 'Wide Awake', a duet with smokey vocals provided by Chan Marshall (aka Cat Power). Each track on Tied to a Star follows the example of 'Wide Awake', where the subtle additions to the minimal arrangements have a panoramic effect. The result is a primarily acoustic album that doesn't feel bare-bones in the slightest.

Mascis has in the past crafted songs featuring lyrics which are certainly personal yet delivered in such a detached manner that it hardly felt like soul-baring. On Tied to a Star, the lyrics and delivery feel more immediate and heartfelt, the ironic detachment has been dialed way back without a feeling of being cloying or sappy. I think the frequent use of his slightly goofy yet sweet falsetto plays a part in that.

Tied to a Star certainly hits all the hallmarks that typify the idiosyncrasies of the J Mascis cannon. However, the consistently sticky melodies and sweet sentiment, coupled with the warm accessibility of the arrangements, place it among his finest productions and best song collections. Mascis has passed along the sonic equivalent of a soul-nurturing embrace from Amma.

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