J. Mascis - Several Shades Of Why

His emotionally fractured songs are impeccable.

Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis turns down the volume and turns up the tenderness on his earnestly engaging first solo album, ‘Several Shades Of Why’. Even though his guitar work throughout the record is toned down, mostly acoustic strumming (with occasional electric flourishes), his deft skill and subtlety shines through exquisitely, forming a spare but strong musical base upon which his coarse, fragile vocals fitfully rest. Mascis also brought in some heavy hitters to help him realize his vision, with current tourmate Kurt Vile, Kevin Drew, Ben Bridwell, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s violinist Sophie Trudeau all adding their distinct talents to the proceedings, with each of their contributions helping to grandly flesh out these delicate, mostly dour songs, giving them a much needed brightness and buoyancy that elevates the entire work.

And while Mascis’ fractured warble might sound grating without the walls of feedback that permeate Dinosaur Jr.’s work, it fits perfectly on these stripped down songs, adding a somber sense of vulnerability and depth to these already deeply emotional tracks. There is a haunting sensation of loss that imbues the entirety of the album, with J wistfully pining for someone that he either foolishly let get away from him, or they simply didn’t want to stick around while he tried to change his troublesome ways. So there is a definite sadness that is threaded throughout these numbers, which is served well by the bare bones nature of the recording and sparse arrangements.

‘Listen To Me’ starts the record off poignantly, with Mascis patiently waiting for someone real to come along while coming to grips with the harsh loneliness that lies ahead of him if no one ever shows. That stark vulnerability pervades the entire album, with Mascis really laying his heart bare on these numbers without being able to bury those raw sentiments under his accustomed waves of discord. It really creates a welcoming, wholesome nature for these songs that immediately engages the listener, allowing all of us to easily identify with the struggles Mascis is describing so eloquently.

The title track is rather a simple, straightforward number, but the deft, dour guitar work is at once arresting, and when combined with the somber strings that colour the end of the track, truly causes the song to soar effortlessly. J keeps the strong momentum going with ‘Not Enough’ and ‘Is It Done’ both standing out as a couple of the best songs of Mascis’ impressive late-career resurgence, with both tracks possessing an infectious chorus that can get even the most black-hearted listener to sing right along. There actually isn’t a weak song on the entire album, with the plaintive, piano-laden ‘Very Nervous And Love,’ and the ‘Here Comes The Sun’ echoing pair ‘Make It Right’ and ‘Where Are You’ all resonating strongly.

The record closes with two powerful but entirely heartbreaking numbers, ‘Can I’ and ‘What Happened,’ with Mascis layering sorrowful guitar riffs over his wistful lyrics of loss and reflection. And while the anguish that certainly inspired these numbers isn’t anything to celebrate, the fact that Mascis can turn those intense feelings into something as beautiful as ‘Several Shades Of Why’ is clearly a reason to sing his praises. It’s an album that is as stunning as anything he’s released over the course of his nearly 30 years in the music industry, and stripped of the roaring bombast of Dinosaur Jr., Mascis has shown that his emotionally fractured songs are impeccable no matter what style they are in.

Tags: Dinosaur Jr, Reviews, Album Reviews

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