J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why : Album Reviews
The release of J Mascis’ debut acoustic solo record, Several Shades of Why has been a long time coming. Not so much in a ‘Chinese Democracy’ kind of way, but more in the ‘Julian Casablancas writing Phrazes For The Young‘ kind of way; it was much more a case of when than if.
Apparently the folk over at Sub-Pop have been trying to get this out for 10 years now, and for some reason it has taken this long. It’s kind of a bizarre thought that someone of J Mascis’ creative drive, someone who’s been behind at least 6 bands other than Dinosaur Jr, has taken this long to debut his put his own folky musings down on record. However, he’s now done it and for the most part, he has succeeded.
“There’s no drums on it…Usually I like to have them. But going drum-less pushes everything in a new direction, and makes it easier to keep things sounding different.”
Several Shades of Why is a collection of 10 wonderfully sculptured acoustic-based tracks. The concise nature of this record should not be understated; had it gone any longer then it would surely lose its power. I often feel that the biggest problem with many records is that they’re far too long. Yet, with Several Shades of Why, Mascis has created a perfect blend of introspective folk and rock tunes in just over 40 minutes.
Rather than building depth of emotion through distorted guitar hooks and trenchant noodling, Mascis is forced to build songs through delicate layering of his modest instrumentation and trademark ragged vocals. Title track Several Shades Of Why is simply breathtaking. With only himself and Sophie Trudeau on the Violin, it’s amazing to see how he has created so much depth; yet he’s managed to do it with so little. Admittedly, he does have a bit of help here. Another pertinent name for the record could have been something along the lines of ‘J Mascis & Friends’, such is the folk-like communal feel throughout. And it’s possibly this inclusiveness that makes me enjoy it even more every time I give it a spin (figuratively of course).
Is It Done features some typical J Mascis guitar hooks. Although slightly undernourished in Dinosaur Jr terms, here they fit quite well with the astonishingly catchy refrain. They sit aloft on some chimey guitar rhythms with enough imperfections to make it truly authentic and very likeable. Not Enough is a toe-tapping jamboree that sees the addition of some brilliant harmonies and a lonesome tambourine – complicated, isn’t it? Can I is a compellingly simple, yet highly contagious slow burner that weaves some restrained electric guitar wailing in between verses of Mascis’ broken vocals.
Several Shades of Why is the kind of record that really has the power to redefine an artist. Despite having been doing this act for a while, this record must even prove to Mascis himself that there’s more in this than just an experimental solo record. If he has ever had a modicum of doubt, then surely his fears must have been allayed by now.
Simplicity is at the heart of this record; Mascis lets the songs do the talking. And apart from some mildly complex layering of guitar tracks, there really isn’t much more to it. From the imaginative and child-like drawings adorning the front cover, to the fragmented and broken lyrics of Mascis, Several Shades of Why is quite simply a beautiful record with catchy hooks, earnest lyrics and wonderfully layered dynamics. One of the better records you’re likely to hear in 2011.