J Mascis is a legend at this point. With little left to prove, and I don’t really think he was interested in proving anything anyway, he’s moved into a phase of his career where he appears to be nuzzling down into an acoustic/electric guitar fueled emulation of Dave Grohl’s lighter side. Except that without J Mascis there’d be no Dave Grohl lighter side. Mascis’ new album, Elastic Days, is an indie rock fundamentalists tour of how it’s done. “It” being defined as writing the best folksy, electric and acoustic guitar tinged songs this side of rock music.
Much ado has been made over comparing Mascis’ solo records to Neil Young’s solo records. Particularly as they contrast to Young’s work with Crazy Horse. Forget that. Yeah, there’s a little bit similarity as far as the dynamic is concerned. Mascis’ solo work here isn’t nearly as radically different from his Dinosaur Jr. work as say Harvest is from Ragged Glory though. Mascis lets rip with some of his brilliant soloing on Elastic Days that really stretches the songs out. He launches them way over the waning moon of folk sensibility. In other words, he does for folk tunes what he did for indie guitar rock. He revolutionizes it. He does so in his own slacker sounding way though, of course.
With a well aged, bubbling vocal fry that’s thick enough to cook an antibiotic pumped up chicken wing to perfection, and a falsetto still tender enough to smooth your wearied mind, Mascis sounds, more than ever, like the easygoing trusted slacker friend you rang up in the days before texting to talk over your latest worries with. If Dave Grohl is the nicest sounding guy in rock, then Mascis is the kinder, gentler, even nicer sounding older brother of the nicest sounding guy in rock. And he plays guitar just as well or better.
Album title track “Elastic Days” showcases everything that makes Elastic Days such a great listen. “When the wheels came off/I didn’t know what to say/But it all made sense/If you knew what to play” croons Mascis over a gently strummed acoustic guitar. Instead of simply offering a little of the “we’re in this together” and “I don’t know what to say, but I’m here anyway” sentiments, Mascis takes it a step further by assuring us that as long as you know what to “play,” either as a role in life or a line on a guitar, it will all be alright. It’s this kind of warm, fuzzy, yet strikingly indie(pendent) reassurance in his old man slacker tones that makes Mascis more than just a well tread indie rocker gone folk. It makes him a sage old slacker mentor.
Sounding less sage, but more defiant, Mascis elevates his electric guitar playing to an equally defiant level on standout track “Give It Off.” The song boasts the album’s best soloing. “Web So Dense” takes on a melancholy hue due to its slower tempo and Smashing Pumpkins-esque strings. “I Went Dust” opens with Mascis brightly strumming his beloved acoustic which builds into another beautiful electric guitar solo. “Picking Out The Seeds” sounds like it would be at home on The Foo Fighters’ acoustic disk that competed In Your Honor. All of these comparisons aren’t indicative of Mascis taking cues from the likes of the Pumpkins and the Foos. It’s indicative of how much of an influence Mascis was on both, but how unaware the mainstream is of Mascis’ work and talent.
I’m not sure that Elastic Days will change the mainstream perception of who really is deserving of the title of godfather of 1990’s alt rock. What I am sure of is that the album is a great testament to the fact of how much we owe Mascis for inspiring so many over so many years, and gifting a generation its own musical template.
Get Elastic Days and check out J Mascis tour dates and more at SubPop.