J Mascis – Several Shades of Why

written by: March 25, 2011
Release Date: March 14, 2011


A funny thing happens when you listen to the new J Mascis album. As the front-man for perennial guitar-rockers Dinosaur Jr., fans have grown accustomed to his brusque playing style. The sounds emitted from his guitar are often assailing—a unique barrage of fuzz and energy as endearing as it is blistering. Seeing the band live has been known to rupture ear drums, but that’s all part of the appeal.

So when Mascis’ new solo venture Several Shades of Why begins with somber, acoustic melodicism, it’s enough to render a double take. The album is 10 tracks’ worth of quiet pop songs that sound nothing like Mascis has recorded in his entire career.

Though initially disarming, Several Shades of Why settles into a charming collection of quiet tunes that speak volumes of Mascis’ eclecticism as a musician.

Without the sometimes burdensome instrumentation of the Dinosaur Jr. aesthetic, the aging rocker is free to explore other soundscapes via an acoustic guitar and minimal accompaniment.

The album’s opening track, “Listen to Me” adequately sets the mood for the album. Mascis’ somber croon breathes over a capriciously whistle–inducing guitar line. The lyrical content, however, is significantly more solemn. Words like “Waiting’s what we do/Not enough to give enough to you/Wish there was a place where it made sense/A place where we could rest” have an emotional resonance that seems divergent from Mascis’ other work.

Perhaps it’s the erratic sounds of Dinosaur Jr. that has kept his lyricism on the backburner. But on Several Shades of Why, Mascis proves to have an introspective quality that warrants this kind of acoustic deviation.

“Listen to Me” segues elegantly into the album’s title track, another infectiously melancholic ditty. Back-to-back, both songs make for a nice one-two punch that makes clear Mascis’ intentions. The rest Several Shades of Why proves to be a series of formal riffs, featuring songs that become more experimental as the album progresses.

Though Mascis opts for a quieter tonality for the album, he still employs his electric sensibilities to great effect. His signature sound first reveals itself during the bridge of “Is It Done,” a song that likely would have suffered from redundancy, had Mascis not decided to add a few more layers.

Meanwhile, the album’s catchiest track “Where Are You?” features a nice combination of jumpy acoustics and spritely rock riffage, proving Mascis recorded this album with a large scope: a number of sounds find their way onto the album, making Several Shades of Why one of the more diverse records to be released this year.

Despite the album’s strengths, it’s often hard to picture Mascis as the man behind the songs.

Several Shades of Why is about as far removed from Dinosaur Jr. as seemingly possible. Yet, this departure proves delightful. Mascis has crafted an album that showcases his technical proficiency as a musician as well as his ear for tune and melody.

Ringing ears be damned: Several Shades of Why is an effortlessly shameless listen.

J Mascis – Several Shades of Why Tracklist:

  1. “Listen to Me”
  2. “Several Shades of Why”
  3. “Not Enough”
  4. “Very Nervous and Love”
  5. “Is It Done”
  6. “Make It Right”
  7. “Where Are You”
  8. “Too Deep”
  9. “Can I”
  10. “What Happened”