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J Mascis

+ {J Mascis + The Fog} + {Witch} + {Heavy Blanket}

Let’s be in no doubt that the multitude of ideas and creativity that belonged to both J MASCIS and his musically frustrated one-time best-buddy, Lou Barlow, led to the latter finding a fresh outlet for his lo-fi musings via his sprawling Sentridoh and SEBADOH – thus Mk.I of indie-rawk icons DINOSAUR JR was over at the turn of ’89. On a hiatus from ‘Jr, J MASCIS (born Joseph Donald Mascis, December 10, 1965, Amherst, Ma.) discovered his roots once again by playing drums for ex-Deep Wound/pre-DINOSAUR JR singer Charlie Nakajima’s “Gobblehoof” EP (plus their 1992 set, “Freezerburn”), while the J also moonlighted as a guest sticksman for Boston’s satanic hardcore group, UPSIDEDOWN CROSS; he appeared on their self-titled album on Taang! Records in ’91. While J MASCIS was gearing up to deliver a proper soundtrack through GAS FOOD LODGING (1992) {*7}, with former MAGAZINE/Bad Seed regular, BARRY ADAMSON, a mock concept OST for VELVET MONKEYS: “Rake”, had already brewed up some confusion when delivered a few years earlier.
While VM’s Don Fleming and Jay Spiegel assisted the Lou Barlow-less DINOSAUR JR, having been snapped up by the majors (Warners/Sire) for their third set, “Green Mind” (1991), MASCIS, ADAMSON and an array of various artists (including the “Rake” track, `We Call It Rock’) produced a wonderfully cult OST.
MASCIS kicked off the long-player with several “Untitled”, all in horizontal, PINK FLOYD-ish fashion, with only a hint of the era’s grunge fixation. The introspective instrumentals (including titled tracks 9-10, `Flying Cloud’ and `Sideways’) were solo guitar-driven with piano and percussion accompaniment, some were even too short to get into full swing. Spread out over the remainder of the set, short cues by BARRY ADAMSON and other artists complement the somewhat eclectic selections; MASCIS reprised his opening `Untitled’ (#1) to eclipse this infectious long-player.
As a side-line to his DINOSAUR JR exploits (squeezed between 1994’s “Without A Sound” and 1997’s “Hand It Over”), but looking likely a solo career might be the way to go, MARTIN + ME (1996) {*6} was sadly mistimed; incidentally, Martin was the name of his acoustic guitar. Stripped back to the basics of an “Unplugged”-type set performed while on tour with his main band, this was a DINOSAUR JR record in all but name, relying on a back catalogue of his/their songs from `Repulsion’ and `Thumb’ to `Get Me’. More interesting was the blend of NEIL YOUNG-styled cover songs in LYNYRD SKYNYRD’s `Every Mother’s Son’, The SMITHS’ `The Boy With The Thorn In His Side’, The WIPERS’ `On The Run’ and CARLY SIMON’s `Anticipation’.
J MASCIS (+ THE FOG) finally emerged late 2000 with the KEVIN SHIELDS-produced MORE LIGHT {*6}, a record starring the MY BLOODY VALENTINE lost-leader as a guest player alongside GUIDED BY VOICES indie star ROBERT POLLARD. Anyone expecting some kind of artistic rebirth or millennial rejuvenation was to be sorely disappointed as J delivered another set of ragged, tumbledown fuzz-pop via `Where’d You Go’, `Can’t I Take This On’ and `I’m Not Fine’. The slacker’s slacker, MASCIS made music that seemingly hung together by only the seared threads of his own beleaguered vocal chords, and he wasn’t likely to change anytime soon.
Not on FREE SO FREE (2002) {*7} anyhoo, an album again billed to J MASCIS + THE FOG, wherein J, if anything, loosened things up even further. There was certainly less noise for noise sake as J signalled a move towards a more groove-orientated sound right from the opening bar of `Freedom’. Perhaps it was no coincidence that the word “free” cropped up more than once throughout this record (`Set Us Free’ and the title track), and it was difficult to avoid the impression that the ageing indie-rocker was perhaps shedding some excess sonic skin. Not included was his homage to country-folk legend JOHN DENVER from a Sub Pop Singles Only cover of the late man’s poignant, `Leaving On A Jet Plane’.
Unceremoniously filed under a compilation solo set (and one could easily see why), the part-2000/part-2002 recorded live at the BBC “collection” of sorts, THE JOHN PEEL SESSIONS (2003) {*7}, was the genius J MASCIS at his best – live and plugged in; the first half showcased bassist Mike Watt (ex-MINUTEMEN) and drummer George Berz. Opening with a covers medley of TEENAGE FANCLUB’s `Everything Flows’, PAVEMENT’s `Range Life’ and The RUTS’ `In A Rut’ (and midway through the set: CHARLIE RICH’s `I Feel Like Going Home’), J was the master of his muse as he also revived DINOSAUR JR all-time gems, including `Freak Scene’.
DINOSAUR JR returned, initially just to the stage, in April 2005, while MASCIS himself continued his unpredictable solo career with an album’s worth of songs (J + FRIENDS SING + CHANT FOR AMMA {*6}) in praise of Hindu figurehead, Sri Mata Amritanandarrayi (or Amma to her followers). From the sublime to the occult, MASCIS (together with vocalist Kyle Thomas, bassist Dave Sweetapple and guitarist Asa Irons) then duly recorded an eponymous BLACK SABBATH-esque mini-opus under the WITCH (2006) {*7} moniker, returning to the drum-stool and backseat-driver for the first time in years. Fast becoming stoner-rawk’s ageing answer to FOO FIGHTERS frontman Dave Grohl, whose attendant drum rolls with QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE were essential listening, J had found another outlet for his multi-tasking talents. Proving that the blaring WITCH project was no one-off fluke, the equally sludgy trip, PARALYZED (2008) {*7}, revived everything that was positive about the once-great NWOBHM – ‘cept they were Americans.
Subsequently, the drummer part of the swaggering SWEET APPLE (led by COBRA VERDE’s John Petkovic), for 2010’s “Love & Desperation”, the spirit of WITCH continued without much fuss; Mascis also tossed in a couple of guitar solos for good measure. As DINOSAUR JR were re-creating a stir on a triumvirate of chart-hitting sets (namely: “Beyond”, “Farm” and 2012’s “I Bet On Sky”), the silver-maned J MASCIS and his trusty Martin strum-machine displayed a folky, singer-songwriter platter by way of SEVERAL SHADES OF WHY (2011) {*7}. A thought-provoking set that played down his slacker, stoner style, there was room in the studio for KURT VILE (on guitar), Pall Jenkins (keyboards) and Sophie Trudeau (violin); the subdued `Listen To Me’, `Is It Done’, `Too Deep’, the title track et al, worth a spin or three. Since this work of art, a couple of cover 45s have been added to his exhaustive discog CV through EDIE BRICKELL’s `Circle’ and MAZZY STAR’s `Fade Into You’.
Stirring up a cheeky hornet’s nest of “is it true – or otherwise” rumours, Mascis spun a few tales to boost the blog for the eponymous HEAVY BLANKET (2012) {*6} set. Making out the recording was a reunion of sorts with school buddies Pete Cougar (drums) and Johnny Pancake (bass) – from pre-Deep Wound times – his excuse to let his hair down and lead out yet another stoner-rock jam band was, er… instrumental in the maverick man’s licence to chill.
ONE TRACK HEART – THE STORY OF KRISHNA DAS (2013) {*6} soundtrack score shared with Devadas with archival tracks from the sadly missed modern-day American guru, Krishna Das (aka Jeffrey Kagel), who’d once turned down the opportunity to front an embryonic BLUE OYSTER CULT.
Back on conventional terra firma, J MASCIS’s TIED TO A STAR (2014) {*7} was supported, when called upon:- Pall Jenkins (guitar), Ken Maiuri (piano) and CAT POWER/Chan Marshall (guest vocals). Dextrous as ever, performing on acoustic guitar, drums and that distinctive voice (from a mumble to a croaky y’all), MASCIS showcases several mini-classics here, notably `Every Morning’, `Me Again’, `Heal The Star’, `Wide Awake’ and `Trailing Off’.
Fast-forward four long years, J MASCIS pursued the 3-minute song structure on the acoustic/electric set, ELASTIC DAYS (2018) {*8}. Apart from the odd peppering of augmentation from a handful of backing singers; including MIRACLE LEGION’s Mark Mulcahy, multi-instrumentalist MASCIS clocked in completely solo. The overlooked album, at least chart-wise, revealed a handful of bona fide semi-classics in opener `See You At The Movies’, `Everything She Said’, `Sometimes’ and `Sky Is All We Had’.
© MC Strong 2002-2008/LCS // rev-up MCS Sep2014-Nov2018

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