Wednesday, August 27, 2014

J Mascis: "Tied To A Star" (album review)

Over the past three decades or so, J Mascis has built himself a reputation as an indie rock guitar god.  On his latest solo album, Tied To A Star, the Dinosaur Jr honcho seems obsessed with proving he's more than just screeching solos though.

From the first strums of "Me Again", you know this is going to be a different kind of record.  It's stripped down, reflective and rootsy.  Those are traits shared by many of the album's songs.

If not for Mascis' omnipresent falsetto, "Every Morning" could easily be mistaken for a slick alternative pop rock tune.  On "And Then", Mascis gains the effect of vastness with big melody, rather than the wall of reverb and feedback we would've gotten in the past.

Some of the tracks are a little bit too introspective.  It takes a while for "Come Down" to hit its stride, and when it does it's too late to bring you back to attention.  The gauzy and understated "Wide Awake" features vocals by Chan Marshall, who is synonymous with gauzy and understated, but at times has difficulty keeping listeners wide awake.

Surprisingly, one of the standouts is the instrumental "Drifter".  The slashing, clashing, levy-busting Americana-influenced guitars are so good that it actually makes you forget that you're listening to an instrumental track.

Also noteworthy is "Heal the Star", which has the same dark, semi-acoustic grunge sound as Chris Cornell's Singles soundtrack contribution "Seasons".

Fans of the guitar solo will have precious few morsels to dig into on Tied To A Star.  "Better Plane" and the frenzied "Trailing Off" will help ease that.

While it's good to hear Mascis taking a new approach, one which differentiates his solo material from the output of the resurrected Dino Jr, there's not enough nuance and variation on the new album to keep it engaging for very long.

Best tracks: "Drifter", "Me Again"

Track listing for Tied To A Star:
  • Me Again
  • Every Morning
  • Heal the Star
  • Wide Awake
  • Stumble
  • And Then
  • Drifter
  • Trailing Off
  • Come Down
  • Better Plane

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