- J Mascis
- Several Shades of Why
J Mascis’ new solo album is the poster child for “Don’t Mistake Unplugged For Lacking Power.” And we’re not talking volume – we’re talking about how the music moves you.
Here’s the tradeoff: without a full band led by his Jazzmaster’s wail, squeal, and roar, Mascis’ distinctive broken-hearted-guy-behind-the-counter-at-Burger-King laconic croak is front-and-center. The fact that we’ve ever been able to hear Mascis’ vocals over the fuzzed-out tar pit bellows of Dinosaur Jr. is a tribute to modern technology and studio technique. Let’s face it: the man will never be remembered for glass-shattering Robert Plant-like wails. (I guess the closest thing would be that moment at the end of the opening verse to the old Dinosaur Jr. tune “Start Choppin’”, where you catch yourself rooting for Mascis to make that second syllable of “good-BYE!” – even on the studio version that you’ve already heard a couple gazillion times.)
The all-acoustic setting of Mascis’ new Several Shades of Why allows us to appreciate the Wizard of Fuzz in a whole new light. Rather than hitting “replay” on the first five bars of a typical Mascis guitar solo over and over to figure out if he has more than two hands, you’re free to wallow in the emotions of his words, as simple as they may be. (When he sings, “Listen to me/I can’t wait to see you” in the opener “Listen To Me”, it’s just plain painful to listen to – in the nicest of ways.) Think about some of the sweet geek moments of Neil Young’s acoustic catalog and you’ll be in the neighborhood of where Several Shades of Why takes you.
These aren’t multi-movement, incredibly intricate guitar symphonies – not at all. Several Shades of Why is a collection of sweet little tunes that never overstay their welcome. There’s definitely no instrumental grandstanding here: even when Mascis lays down a wee bit of thick-toned soloing on “Is It Done”, he’s playing a fuzzed-up acoustic … and applies just enough to seal the deal. In fact, the standout instrumental moment on the album is the lovely violin played by Sophie Trudeau on the title track. When Mascis’ old Martin slow-dances with Trudeau’s violin, you feel like you’re witnessing a very intimate moment.
Several Shades of Why may not knock you on your butt the first time through, but there’ll be enough heart tugs to make you want to revisit and absorb it. Doesn’t matter what anyone might have expected from a free-range J Mascis; this is as open and honest as it gets.
The back rooms of guitar stores all over the land will be seeing a new wave of wanna-be six-string warriors hauling acoustics down off the walls instead of solid-body electrics. They’ll be holing up in various corners to show off their attempts to master the acoustic licks off “Several Shades of Why” under the pretense of “I was thinkin’ about buyin’ somethin’.” Mark my words.
Ah, well – it’ll give the tube amps a chance to cool off.