Underground guitar god J Mascis is best known as the frontman for Dinosaur Jr., one of the most influential American alternative rock outfits of the last 30 years. Sadly, plenty of folks are more familiar with bands Dinosaur Jr. is credited with influencing—Nirvana, Pavement, or Built To Spill—than with Dinosaur Jr. itself. In the late ‘80s, the band put out a string of albums full of distorted, hook-heavy, and disaffected guitar rock that foreshadowed much of what would happen in the American underground for the better part of the next two decades. If you’re one of the uninitiated, do yourself a favor and familiarize yourself with the band’s 30-year back catalogue. It’s full of teenage slacker vibes and triumphant fuzzed-out guitar greatness. It’s good stuff.
Since the mid-’90s, Mascis has also been touring on the side with an acoustic set that eventually manifested some pretty stellar solo albums, full of stripped-down, southern-fried melancholia. As a solo artist, his usual gnarly guitar virtuosity dwindled away in favor of soft-strummed acoustic ballads full of ringing piano accompaniments. The sparser arrangements foreground his road-worn and crusty vocals in contrast to the guitar squall that threatens to bury them in Dinosaur Jr. This is fitting since Mascis seems to be dealing with noticeably more personal subject matter in his solo work, much of which hints vaguely at pain and regret over ill-fated relationships and personal foibles. You know, the kind of stuff you write with 52 years of hindsight at your disposal.
On Nov. 9, Mascis releases his third collection of mostly acoustic solo work, Elastic Days. Fans of the wailing guitar freakouts Mascis is famous for will be happy to find that style in greater abundance than on his previous solo offerings. (They were virtually nonexistent in Several Shades of Why (2011) and intermittently used in Tied To A Star (2014).) The downside is that the pensive-ballad-with-triumphant-guitar-solo formula starts to get a little tired as the album progresses past its midpoint. Ultimately, both earlier solo albums were more dynamic in mood, tempo, and instrumentation. Each song here is compelling on its own, but strung together over 42 minutes, they lose their luster.
Bottom line: if you’re a fan of his first two solo records, you’ll find most of what you liked about them, with maybe a little heavier dose of angst and a few more wild solos. And if you are a fan, you can check him out in person at the Aladdin Theater on Thursday, Nov. 8.