J Mascis has pretty much done it all. From hardcore bands to Dinosaur Jr, doom metal to alt-rock, there’s not a lot of musical ground that he hasn’t covered. Now on his second solo studio album proper, Mascis strikes a heartfelt chord with 41 minutes of sweeping melodies and intricate guitar work. Don’t worry though – there’s still a few wonderfully grungey bits to satisfy even the staunchest Dinosaur Jr fan.
For a dude who famously called guitar “a wimpy instrument”, Tied to a Star is predominately acoustic – the wimpiest form of them all, one might say. The record picks up where 2011’s Several Shades of Why left off, and opening track ‘Me Again’ is soft, pretty and ethereal – not too unlike Elliott Smith’s later work. In contrast, ‘Every Morning’ is an upbeat, jangly affair, and wouldn’t be out of place on a teen movie soundtrack. Mascis dips in and out of different guitar styles throughout the whole record, predominately focusing on folky, indie tones, but occasionally delving deep into country styles and even Eastern-inspired riffs. ‘Heal The Star’ is a great example, blending traditional guitar styles with grunge-tinged feedback in the background. The entirely acoustic ‘Drifter’ is so cleverly crafted that it’s impossible to tell whether it’s double-tracked or just one guitar. There’s even the odd solo in there – ‘Trailing Off’s final few seconds are just fantastic. For such a wimpy instrument, J Mascis completely owns it.
There are fewer collaborations in Tied to a Star than in its predecessor, but Mascis still ropes in a few old friends to help out here and there. The duet with Cat Power on ‘Wide Awake’ is, quite simply, perfect. Pall Jenkins, Ken Maiuri and Mark Mulcahy also make appearances – in particular, Maiuri’s presence on piano is an integral part of the record, and adds an incredible amount of depth to an already intriguing collection of songs.
If there are any issues with Tied to a Star, it’s perhaps that it all blends together too easily. There are a hell of a lot of highlights in the record, but if you’re not listening out for them, it all sinks into one, long, blissful soundscape. Mascis’s soft, slightly croaky vocals lead you through . It’s not inherently a bad problem to have – the fact that everything blends together so well shows just how accomplished Mascis’s songwriting is, but it sometimes feels as if you’ve missed something, and that feels like a real shame.
There are a lot of bands out there doing stuff like this these days. And they probably learned it all from J Mascis. Even in his much heavier records, it’s impossible to find more intricate songcrafting than this. Its release is timely, providing the perfect farewell to summer with a soulful, occasionally melancholic, but ultimately beautiful approach to the ‘acoustic solo record’.
4 out of 5 high fives!