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J Mascis remains delightfully obscure on new album

Newcomers who manage to press beyond the quizzical album covers are rewarded with lyrics that are equally difficult to parse

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Opaque appeal: J Mascis
  • Photo courtesy of Justin Lapriore
  • Opaque appeal: J Mascis

Jumping into the world of J Mascis, in or out of Dinosaur Jr., might seem like an intimidating prospect. After all, he's in his fourth decade of a prolific, sprawling career. Newcomers who manage to press beyond the quizzical album covers (which often feature sad-eyed cartoon beasts of fur and horn adrift in mossy, smog-choked dystopias) are rewarded with lyrics that are equally difficult to parse: pronoun-laden diatribes that seek to catalog every awkward encounter Mascis has ever endured, without the courtesy of context or specifics.

He is beholden to instinct above all. He is not above singing in an off-putting falsetto, or sandwiching a blistering guitar solo, between two blistering solos. And while Mascis' visceral style of play has contributed greatly to his status as an iconoclast, his profound aloofness has played a part that cannot be easily discounted. Spend some time in Mascis' orbit, though, and it becomes apparent that while this insularity is a barrier to entry, it is also the whole of his appeal, regardless of whether the entry point is the first album from Dinosaur Jr., Dinosaur, or this new solo offering, Tied to a Star.

With no real jumping-on point, the listener has no choice but to take the leap and hang on tight. Mascis takes a quiet tack on Tied to a Star, continuing in the vein of his 2012 album Several Shades of Why. There is no shortage of his characteristically cryptic lyrical missives, but they are rendered tender by the largely acoustic backdrop. While Tied to a Star offers a few token nods to the fuzz and grit of Dinosaur Jr. (as on the song "Stumble"), the bulk of it is bright, crisp and bittersweetly autumnal. As always, it's unclear where Mascis is coming from with any of it, but it arrived just in time.

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