Monday, 1 December 2014

Album Review:J Mascis – Tied To A Star

(Sub Pop)

Dinosaur Jr's return brought little in the way of surprise, but that didn't stop their last few records being a great summation of everything that there are good at. Hook-laden, melodic and catchy the band justified this second wind continuing what the had started two decades earlier. Whilst having split his work over numerous groups and guest appearances through the decades. He's shown up on albums by Strand of Oaks and Fucked Up as well as, most surprisingly, in Richard Ayoade's film The Double this year alone – it still took till 2011 for Mascis to put together his first solo album Several Shades of Why.

For one of the forefathers of grunge and a slacker style of indie rock, an acoustic record doesn't sound like an obvious fit for Mascis, known for his guitar solos and distortion pedals. Tied To A Star not too far removed form his main band, even the artwork is by Mark Spusta who has contributed artwork to the last few Dinosaur jr. records. This is no bad thing, this album that is likely to keep Dinosaur fans sated, despite being a toned down and mostly acoustic affair. Tracks like Every Morning could have been straight from a Dinosaur Jr album, upbeat and backed with drums.

Heal The Star centres around a discordant chord progression would fit right in on one of their earlier records. It switches things up near the end as a percussive focus takes over on the bridge as a droning guitar takes on an almost middle eastern sound. Wide Awake's lush folk finger picking and gentle backing vocals from Cat Power is the kind of gentle experiment that justifies going solo. Backed with slide guitar and drums that crash in at the song's peak, it does show that Mascis can do soft and sincere songs.

Stumble keeps a rumble and buzz of an electric guitar alongside the acoustic, balancing the stripped back feel with a wash of noise set in the background as the lyrics bare a resemblance to The Vaselines' Jesus Don't Want Me For A Sunbeam. There is the odd turn into less tread sound on Tied to A Star with instrumental country riffing on Drifter. Trailing Off shows he can't help let loose with the occasional ripping guitar solo but if you're a fan of his then you'll know it's hard to dislike his concise, melodic and never showy playing style.

Not a radical leap into new territory, Tied To A Star is instead a great showcase for an under-rated, inventive and consistent songwriter just doing what he's always done and doing it well. Sometimes sweet, sometimes emotional but never cloying. He is still at his best with a foot on a distortion pedal but J Masics is not to be written of with an acoustic either.

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