On the far side of J Mascis’ fuzzy guitar sounds, which defined not only Dinosaur Jr.’s sound but in turn marked him out as an alt. rock legend, lies a softer, breezier side. On Several Shades of Why, his solo debut album proper, he engages with his folk-rock influences like never before, which range from After the Gold Rush-era Neil Young and Crosby, Stills and Nash, to Nick Drake. No doubt aware of the deluge of folk / Americana albums in recent years, he has crafted this album with instruments and arrangements that are alien to Dinosaur Jr.’s records and might be more suitable on a Mercury Rev album (Saw, anyone?). Mascis has clearly taken a leaf out of those American alt. rock songwriters who are deeply rooted in country music.
Opener ‘Listen to Me’, with its simple progression and whispering vocals, feels like a Evan Dando track, while ‘Is it Done’ could easily have been written and recorded by Lucinda Williams. The intricate finger picking and harrowing strings of the albums title track finds Mascis at most earnest and the feel of the song is echoed in ‘Very Nervous and Love’. Album highlight, ‘Not Enough’, a campfire folk-pop song complete with backing vocals from current tour mate Kurt Vile, is the sound of the summer.
The record takes a strange twist towards the end and the penultimate and ultimate tracks, ‘Can I’ and ‘What Happened’, respectively, find Mascis keeping the line of the record while layering the songs with distorted guitars and taking the record into a dark place. And while the album’s roots influences and pop sensibility may not be for Dinosaur Jr. purists, those with a library-full of the best folk / Americana records of the last 10 years have another addition that ever-expanding genre.