J. Mascis is best known for his role as the front man of Dinosaur Jr., a band that’s legendary loudness has been deafening its willing fan base for three decades. J. has long been the force behind the creative control of the band, and the acrimonious departure of bassist Lou Barlow back in 1989 allowed him to explore other areas of sound that Dinosaur Jr. may not have had Barlow remained a constant in the band. For a while, Mascis was able to explore and expand creatively in a way that most artists can only do when going solo. Mascis seemed to be grasping for something that seemed just out of reach. He came incredibly close to finding the sound he was searching for, but Dinosaur Jr. just never felt right without all members the mighty trio of Barlow, Murph and Mascis. The band was just better as a unit. Together, their latest music has been extraordinarily cohesive, collaborative and solid. Yet It still seemed as if Mascis was still searching for something, a sound he finally understood was not possible as a member of this iconic band, and pursued a way to make the music he was so clearly meant to make. “Elastic Days” is the third solo album by Mascis, and the one that most closely reaches the ideal sound he seems to have been striving for.
Mascis has always been somewhat of an enigma, most clearly evidenced by the duality of his indolent drawl coupled with energetic and ear-splitting guitar riffs. A shy and introverted loneliness alongside an untamed ferocity rising up from the bowels of a Fender Jazzmaster. It only seems fitting then, that one creative outlet would just never be enough for him. His need to express both sides equally has lent itself to an artist that best showcases his many talents both as a member of a majorly influential band that defined a whole new category of music and a laid back and mostly mellow musician whose style is best defined as folk-rock peppered with punk. While Dinosaur Jr has grown exponentially as a band over the last 3 decades, especially after the return of Barlow and Murph, Mascis has seemingly grown even faster in the 7 years since the release of his first solo album, Several Shades Of Why. While all 3 solo albums have leant themselves to a much more mellow and acoustically driven aesthetic, a more stripped down and lovely version of the guitar shred Dinosaur Jr. fans have come to know and love, Elastic Days is in a league of its own. In it, J. has finally captured the evasive sound he’s been trying to reign in all of these years. It is an album that combines all of the greatness of the often underrated musician. His beautiful lyrics, his catchy riffs and his astonishing ability to shred a guitar, albeit in a much more mellow form.
Mascis has always been a master of the great guitar hook. The albums first track to be released was the incredibly upbeat and catchy See You At The Movies, with a hook as intriguing as any Dino Jr. have ever produced. The song immediately drew me to the album, and one of the aspects I enjoyed most was hearing the moody drone of J.’s vocals paired with the lovely harmonies of backing vocalist Pall Jenkins of Black Heart Procession. While songs like See You at The Movies are evocative of Freak Scene, the classic Dino Jr, song, the album is much more heavily peppered with a mellow and folky beauty, poignant lyrics and other intriguing collaborations with Zoe Randall of Luluc and Mark Mulcahy of Miracle Legion fame.
As always, J.’s lyrics are haunted by the beauty of the ever elusive “someone” he has been singing to for over thirty years. The sort of soul mate you know you will always love and never quite have. An ever evolving circle of melancholy, emotional uncertainty and self-doubt that every single one of us has felt, is feeling or will feel. On this album, Mascis delivers some of his most emotive vocals to date. His guitar solos are often how he most clearly expresses his deepest feelings, a non-vocal cry of pain or frustration, or despair. For the first time, we are hearing his vocals come close to matching his guitar as a way to express himself. And it is beautiful. From the astonishingly pretty I Went To Dust to the gorgeous Web So Dense, which includes the albums most fabulous guitar solo, this album reaches a level of maturity of sound that is genuinely incredible. It is truly Mascis at his finest.
On Elastic Days, Mascis seems to have found himself. An always under-rated lyricist, the best and most revealing lyrics on the album may be from the song See You At The Movies;
” Finding you is easy/ Finding me is hard/ Finding you is easy/ I’ll just try to stall/ I don’t peak too early/ I don’t peak at all.”
To the contrary. Mascis seems to be at the peak of his career. I have no doubt his fans will have a long and amazing journey ahead, for as long as they stay along for the ride.