Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Morning Show with John Richards, is “Is It Done” by J Mascis from the 2011 album Several Shades of Why on Sub Pop.
It’s hard to believe that Several Shades of Why is J Mascis’ first solo studio album. Over the years since he founded Dinosaur Jr. in the mid-80’s, Mascis has performed and recorded with an unimaginable number of musicians in his prolific career. Perhaps it’s the heavy hitting vibe of his three current projects — besides playing guitar and singing for Dinosaur Jr., J drums for Witch and sings, plays guitar and drums for Sweet Apple — that has inspired him to strip it down for this 2011 album of gentler, mostly acoustic and drum-less songs that recall the days in the early 2000’s when he’d play shows all by his lonesome. But Several Shades of Why is hardly a mild album. Mascis’ immediately recognizable craggy voice that characterized his brand “Gen X”-y slacker rock in decades past actually enlivens these songs, particularly if you’re already a fan. And then of course, there’s also his virtuosic guitar playing.
To call this merely J’s “acoustic album” neglects the dynamic songwriting and instrumentation here. “Where You Are,” for instance, is a jangly number punctuated by electric guitar riffs that never overwhelm the song but add a decisive kick. Today’s featured song, “Is It Done,” also builds from an acoustic riff that leads into fuzzy electric feedback and a wailing guitar solo that add potency to J’s pondering. The song also features one of number of guests appearances — among them: Kurt Vile, Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), and Sophie Trudeau (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) — as Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell almost unrecognizably backs as a second vocalist. The song is a perfect example of the entire album’s sound but is hardly its sole crowning moment. All of Several Shades of Why is effective, emotive, and in its own way as rocking as anything you’d expect from a guitarist known to surround himself with Marshall stacks on stage.
J Mascis is currently on the road following a handful of live appearances during SXSW. He’ll be at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern on April 29 and live on KEXP that same day at 4PM. Check with his website, Facebook and MySpace pages for updates. For now, here’s J being interviewed by Ted Leo at the IFC Crossroads House last week during SXSW: