There”s a time in the career of every aging rock “n roller when it becomes difficult to tell good from bad or hackneyed from original, when perspective is just as hard to come by as willing groupies, when it becomes easy and very comfortable to either repeat yourself or do a half-assed job of coming up with something new. Call it Neil Young syndrome.
After garnering minor fame in the “80s with Dinosaur Jr., indie-rock act par excellence, J. Mascis found himself caught up in a movement (grunge) that he”d helped invent, almost by accident. Dinosaur Jr.”s scratchy garage-isms were too unpretty for “80s radio, but dozens of bands inspired by their noisiness and possessing barely noticeable punk roots (just like Mascis, in fact) went on to conquer alternative radio. Mascis, a lanky, long-haired dude who”d rather play golf than lead a revolution, rode the alterna-wave for a while, scoring a couple of hits (“Feel the Pain,” “Start Choppin””) and cementing his reputation as the stoner guitar god of the grunge scene.
Too stoned, maybe, since most of Mascis”s “90s output was humdrum and samey: Lots of guitar fuzz, metal-head guitar solos, tunes that were little more than afterthoughts. By the time he dropped the Dinosaur Jr. moniker and released Martin + Me, there were more reasons than just the similarity in vocal style to compare him to Neil Young.
All of which makes More Light, Mascis”s most recent release, sound pretty damned vital. The samey-ness is still there, granted, but like Young, his spiritual godfather, Mascis has a way of making his sloppiness and ramshackle hooks sound downright endearing, which, if you”re a kindhearted soul, allows you to look past the half-assed shit
The best tracks find Mascis sticking his head up out of the murk of guitar noise and lazy melody to deliver slices of snappy grunge-pop: “Sameday” bounces between minor-key whine and major-key stomp as Mascis croaks his way through a stoner lament, while the bouncy “Can”t I Take This On” hints that the typically apathetic and brooding Mascis has a sense of humor after all.
“Waistin”,” likewise, just might be a brilliant double entendre, a nod to his stoner fans (I thought at first he was saying “I”m wasted,” which is quite plausible, actually) and a nod to the Neil Young contingent, who”ll surely eat up the offhand melody and lyrics that evoke all the pathos of being a grubby, lazy yet sensitive middle-aged white guy.
Unlike distortion-master and fellow Young syndrome sufferer Lou Reed, whose “Possum” was the finest ear-shredding rave-up of last year, Mascis”s guitar skronk is all about noise as a jumping-off point: It”s not particularly well-channeled, it”s just always there, as integral and ordinary as drums, bass and major chords. Perhaps that”s what The Fog the name of Mascis”s backing band, which includes ex-Minutemen bassist Mike Watt refers to?
If Mascis happens to be your thing, be sure to show up early for Elf Power, the Athens, GA indieists who belong to the oh-so-hip Elephant 6 collective, a loose assemblage of bands who are big into both experimental rock and retro guitar pop. EP”s forte lies in blending sweetly-sung bedroom melodies with neo-psychedelic buzz the perfect compliment Mascis”s hazy melancholia and pretty damned good by itself.