Several Shades of Why isn’t the first time that Dinosaur Jr. mastermind and Indie rock stalwart J Mascis has tried his hand at the singer/song-writer conceit. It is, however, his first truly solo effort as such in LP form. Presented with a post-grunge lethargy, and a distinctly sad-eyed allure, Several Shades can ostensibly be seen as a confessional, however, and perhaps more noteworthy, is the way that Mascis subverts singer/song-writer conventions by craftily working within them.
Mascis being one of the better guitarists of the past twenty five years or so, as well as possessing a sonic sensibility that can just as easily soothe as it can agitate, landed Several Shades of Why in an intriguing light pretty much from the moment of its inception. The end result is a bit of a Molotov cocktail. It’s uneven at times, but still deftly blends these hazy theatrics with quiet moments of comfort and longing that all carry with them much more kick than would seem possible.
The trickling acoustic guitar riffs, the swelling string arrangements, the confessional lyrics; on the surface they all seem kind of rote within this setting. Mascis, though, makes these elements resonate and echo through out Several Shades of Why with this lack of polish that only elevates their presence. It’s not a punk album, but there is always a little of that grime coating his output, endearing the finished work to those with an ear for that sort of perfect imperfection.
This, of course, is not to say that the album is shoddily put together, or hastily plotted. Part of the reason why Several Shades of Why works is that fusion of general fuck-all and genuine pop artistry. It can be melodic just as easily as it can be harsh; it can meander and ramble just as easily as it can succinctly emote with a relativity that is (for lack of a better term) rather comforting. This is mirrored in the album’s production, which attempts to marry all of the different components, resulting in an LP that sometimes comes off as voyeuristic as opposed to intimate. To be on the outside looking in is an all too familiar theme, but Several Shades of Why uses it to captivating lengths.
With guest spots from the likes of Kurt Vile, Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene, and Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell among others, Several Shades of Why carries with it the authentic feel of a collaboration, but doesn’t lose the contentment of its simplicity. This is key when working with these kinds of notable figures, and the correct steps are taken in this regard for the most part. While there can be moments of repetition (thematically or just creatively) that break some of the album’s flow, Mascis comes across as perfectly in league with his cohorts.
Shifting from straight-forward balladry (album opener “Listen To Me“), to bouncy folk (“Not Enough“), to deconstructed rock (“Can I”), Several Shades possesses a lot more flavor than expected. Though, despite the record’s appreciable backdrop of influences, Mascis is able to keep his voice present and strong through out. His lyrical strengths are every bit as attractive as they’ve always been, appealing to cynicism as much as they do dreamy escapism.
Several Shades of Why doesn’t necessarily find J Mascis co-opting this form of song-writing. This is, more or less, what he has been doing his entire career, after all–just under a slightly different guise. However, he puts forth a lot of spirit in the way that he attempts to put his own stamp on things, which is a point that he doesn’t always get over perfectly, but still adds an unexpected vibrancy to even the more dreary settings. An inveterate realist, J Mascis isn’t one for romanticism, and there’s not a wealth of it to be found on Several Shades of Why. However, that doesn’t mean that the album is cold, or even dark. It can be both of those things, but mostly it’s honest. And, in a satisfying way, that’s what stays with you.
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