J Mascis – Several Shades of Why
On the far side of J Mascis’ fuzzy guitar sounds, which defined not only Dinosaur Jr.’s music but, in turn, marked him out as an alt. Rock legend lies a softer, breezier side. On Several Shades of Why, his debut solo album proper, he engages with his folk-rock influences like never before, which range from After the Gold Rush-era Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash, to Nick Drake. No doubt aware of the deluge of folk / Americana albums in recent years, he has crafted this album with instruments and arrangements that are alien to Dinosaur Jr.’s records and might be more suitable on a Mercury Rev album (Saw, anyone?). Mascis has apparently taken a leaf out of country music-inspired those American alt. rock songwriters.
Opener ‘Listen to Me’, with its simple progression and whispering vocals, feels like an Evan Dando track, while ‘Is it Done’ could easily have been written and recorded by Lucinda Williams. The intricate finger picking and harrowing strings of the albums title track find Mascis at most earnest, and he echoes the feel of the song in ‘Very Nervous and Love’. Album highlight, ‘Not Enough’, a campfire folk-pop song complete with backing vocals from current tour mate Kurt Vile, is the sound of the summer.
The record takes a strange twist towards the end and the penultimate and closing tracks, ‘Can I’ and ‘What Happened’, respectively, find Mascis keeping the line of the record while layering the songs with distorted guitars and taking the album to a dark place. And while the album’s roots influences and pop sensibility may not be for Dinosaur Jr. purists, those with a library-full of the best folk / Americana records of the last ten years have another addition that ever-expanding genre.