Whether or not you’ve heard his music before (Dinosaur Jr. among other projects), there’s a good chance you’ll recognize J Mascis either by name or his signature look comprising oversized glasses and flowing locks. Mascis’s goofy appearance belies the tender and emotive songwriting found on his solo studio debut, Several Shades of Why.
Primarily an album centered on acoustic guitar and voice, Mascis lets listeners in on something that’s intensely private but lacks the voyeur effect. At the end of the first track he repeats the phrase “listen to me” and it’s impossible to think of doing anything but what he asks.
Mascis plays out a nice range of sounds on Several Shades of Why, from the catchy single “Not Enough” to the total downers “Can I” and “What Happened” at the end of the album (don’t let the fact they’re a little gut-wrenching turn you off; they’re both highly listenable, and isn’t the point of music to make you feel something?). The album’s high point comes with the back-to-back placement of the pretty, floating, echoing “Very Nervous and Love” and the honest “Is It Done”. Unfortunately, the strength of “Is It Done” shines a harsh light on the next and least successful track on the album – “Make It Right”. While not a bad song, exactly, it has a faint smack of hippy-dippiness that doesn’t quite sit right with the overall feel of the album.
This one hang-up aside, Several Shades of Why is a lovely album, full of feeling and easily worth investing some time in whether you’re a long-time fan or just in search of a new voice to fall in love with.