It's hard to imagine that J. Mascis had been a part of my music library for twenty-five years now. Just seeing that in typed words makes me realize that the guy has a serious musical resume. He started in the 1980's playing drums in a short lived band called, Deep Wound. Although short lived, it would spawn the careers of both Mascis and Lou Barlow. Barlow and Mascis would go on to collaborate in the band for which Mascis is most notably known, Dinosaur, Jr. His career, however, doesn't stop there. Mascis has placed his signature sound on music with other bands, like Gobblehoof, Velvet Monkeys, The Fog, Switch and Sweet Apple. To call the guy prolific would be like calling Bob Dylan an "ok" songwriter. For his most recent project, we find Mascis leaves behind his amps, dropping his signature Fender Jazzmasters and Jaguars for an acoustic guitar and the help of a few friends for a solo effort.
At the ripe old age of forty-five, it's safe to assume that the Amherst, Massachusetts native has seen his share of ups and downs in the music business. He was the leader of the critics favorite band, Dinosaur, Jr. when Nirvana and Pearl Jam were much more popular. Along with other critical favorites like Sonic Youth and Mudhoney, Mascis had and still has an undeniably distinct voice, and, on his first solo studio album, Several Shades of Why, his voice shines. Mostly known as a guitar god of the grunge scene of the early nineties, this album allows him to focus more on his voice as the central instrument, rather than an simply accompanying his guitar work. Imagine a Nick Drake record, those quiet guitars and lonesome voice playing off of each other like an old Vaudeville act.
Not only do we get Mascis and his obvious talents, but he also enlists the talents of some other pretty good musicians, as well. With contributions from Kurt Vile (solo, War on Drugs), Kevin Drew (solo, Broken Social Scene), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses) and others, Several Shades of Why is a great example of how Mascis can construct an album with subtle hints of talent from others without losing his own musical identity. The collaborators usually sit in, providing accents to guitars and backing vocals here and there, but you'll never mistake these songs for anything other than J. Mascis.
Initially, you might miss the fuzzy guitars for which Mascis is famous, but as you listen to each song you'll be lulled into an exhibition of music that ranges from English influenced folk, to west coast, laid back singer/songwriter tunes.
Lucky for us, Several Shades of Why is available, in its entirety, via streaming audio here, thanks to the great folks at Sub Pop.
If you enjoy this album half as much as I do, buy it when it comes out on March 15.
Until next week . . .