REVIEW: J Mascis – “Several Shades Of Why”

J Mascis / Several Shades Of Why / Sub Pop

Years ago, on one of Dinosaur Jr.’s performances on David Letterman, the host called them “one of the best post-punk power trios in the business” to a wave of laughter from the audience. Dave of course had the band on his show many times after that, but that initial reaction from the audience – not quite knowing what to make of this ‘post-punk power trio’ fronted by Cousin It on guitar – seems to have long been the response given to Dinosaur Jr. by mainstream audiences. Henry Rollins has gone on record as calling the group one of his all time favourites, but it’s not surprising that a lot of Black Flag fans would find the trio’s music a little too melodic for their tastes. On the other hand, the group’s dissonant punk sensibilities might be off-putting for most Smashing Pumpkins and R.E.M. fans. This puts them squarely in the camp of avant-garde, alt-rock oddities like Sonic Youth, with a highly segmented and just as highly dedicated group of devotees. It also lines up my comparison of Several Shades of Why, the debut from Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis, to Trees Outside the Academy, the 2007 solo release by Sonic Youth front fellow Thurston Moore.

It’s no accident these albums share an evocative, melancholic mood – Mascis was intimately involved with both. Trees was recorded at the long-haired axeman’s home studio, and he plays lead guitar on three tracks. The sorrowful sound that is translated so well through choirs of acoustic guitars and violins on Moore’s solo album are also apparent on Mascis’. With the seeming ease he expounds it on tracks such as “Several Shades of Why” and “Can I”, it appears as if Mascis must have been stockpiling edgy angst at bargain prices back in the early 90s’ when it was in hefty supply. Now, having a monopoly of sorts, he is able to dole it out in the form of sweet depressing grooves as he sees fit.

Download: “Listen To Me”, “Can I”

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