"Several Shades of Why." J Mascis. Best known as the main ax-wielder/frontman for beloved indie icons Dinosaur Jr., J Mascis is a master at combining punk-rock energy, heavy-metal muscle and classic-rock melody into his distinct brand of high-volume fretwork.
When Mascis goes it alone, his solo work takes on a softer and intimate quality, assuming a singer-songwriter mantle that strips away the distortion and feedback to reveal the fragile intimacy lurking beneath. His latest work, "Several Shades of Why," is Mascis at his most stripped-down, largely unadorned with little more than an acoustic guitar and his wavering voice.
The results are often gorgeous, with Mascis crafting subtle arrangements around confessional lyrics of longing and loneliness. Starting off with the aching "Listen to Me," Mascis gently strums and picks a plaintive ballad that puts his vulnerability front and center.
"Is It Done" follows a similar fashion, only to have a brief appearance of Mascis' trademark electric guitar shredding drop in at midpoint. "Can I" recalls a drowsy Neil Young somehow still finding his way around a song (in a good way), while the closer "What Happened" gets livelier with gurgling Black Sabbath sludge and rousing riffs lurking in the background.
Mascis isn't quite alone in fleshing out these tunes, and some of the notable players read like a who's who of current indie all-stars. Band of Horses' Ben Birdwell, Broken Social Scene's Kevin Drew and Philly-based strummer Kurt Vile all drop in on the proceedings, lending evidence to just how much credibility and influence Mascis still carries nearly 30 years into his career.
As always, Mascis sounds like one of the most bummed-out dudes on the planet, and his wounded delivery and limited vocal range will surely turn off some. For those onboard, "Several Shades of Why" is a strong piece of work from one of indie rock's true legends.