J Mascis - Several Shades of Why (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

J Mascis

Several Shades of Why (2011)

Sub Pop

J Mascis, the mastermind behind Dinosaur Jr. and several other almost as good but nowhere near as popular bands, has released a few solo albums in his time, but none of them are studio releases, and none of them have generated any original material. As such, his solo studio debut, Several Shades of Why is kind of a big deal.

There are a few guests present on Several Shades of Why offering backup vocals and some additional instrumentation, but for the most part, it's a one-man show. Mascis' voice and acoustic guitar take center stage here, and remain there for most of the 41-minute running time. It causes a couple of the songs to run together, but for the most part they're pretty great. Mid-album highlight "Where Are You" contains what just may be the strongest melody of 2011 so far. The man's lyrics are as beautiful and honest as ever.

From a songwriting standpoint, Mascis doesn't attempt anything radically different from his main project. Most of these songs feel like acoustic Dinosaur Jr. songs, but last time I checked, Dinosaur Jr. rules, so that's not a bad thing.

One minor concern is that a couple of the songs ("Can I" and the title track, to be exact) linger on a bit too long. Mascis' voice is more inviting when it's backed by 10 tons of distortion, and can't really carry a tune on its own for five-and-a-half minutes. When Mascis offers up some of his signature electric guitar wizardry (as in the solos to "Is It Done", "What Happened" and "Where Are You"), it's a huge breath of fresh air and helps break up the monotony.

Several Shades of Why might function best as background music, or study music. A few of the songs presented here are a bit too similar to each other, and full, attentive listens only serve to highlight this. A little more variety would have paid off in spades. As it stands, it's a good, but not great album, worth a listen for fans of Mascis' past work.