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J Mascis’ guitar solos are instantly recognizable. Ultra clean and deceptively complex, the Dinosaur Jr. guitarist and singer has rightfully claimed his place as a modern guitar god in the 33 years since the band’s breakthrough debut album, Dinosaur. His smooth, classic rock-influenced lead guitar tones with little to no distortion, reverb, or any frills whatsoever played on top of heavy walls of fuzz became emblematic of the late 80’s/early 90’s indie rock sound.
But when Mascis began working alone in the studio with 2011’s Several Shades of Why (his first solo effort Martin & Me from 1996 is a live album), those guitar solos were largely nowhere to be seen, abandoning his trademark electric style for something much quieter. Trading in power chords for acoustic fingerpicking, Mascis began to showcase a vastly different musical side, a quieter and more contemplative sound that was miles away from the brash early indie rock that drove his band to becoming icons of the college rock genre and influencing scores of indie bands in the process.
On his third solo album, Elastic Days, Mascis has suddenly found a way to merge the two styles, combining his distinct solos with the beautiful acoustics of his first two releases on his own. He also sounds more confident than he’s ever been outside of Dinosaur Jr., placing more of an emphasis on his lyrics and putting his famous drawl more front and center than ever, never once hiding behind his backing instrumentals.
This synthesis is obvious from the get go; album opener “See You at the Movies” features some of Mascis’ best lyrics to date, referencing his famously insular personality before giving way to a screaming guitar solo – “Finding you is easy / Finding me is hard / Finding you is easy / I’ll just try to stall / I don’t peak too early / I don’t peak at all.” The song, Mascis’s favorite on Elastic Days according to his bio, demonstrates the extent to which he is firing on all cylinders at once, more so than at any point in his growing solo back catalogue, resulting in some of his most compelling songs outside of Dinosaur Jr. Quickly followed up by album highlight “Web So Dense,” a gorgeous midtempo ballad that gives way to a remarkable crescendo and perhaps the best guitar solo on the record, it’s clear that he’s operating on a different level than on either of his previous unassisted LPs, never hitting the lull that his previous releases did.
What is missing from Elastic Days is some variety. Mascis largely sticks to the same formula throughout, only very subtly breaking things up on the slightly more hushed title track. There are few tempo changes and even fewer instrumental flourishes to throw the listener for a loop, but the album never demands much from its listener – it’s a collection of twelve songs perfect for a road trip soundtrack to zone out to, but also one that rewards a closer listen. At no point is Mascis trying to reinvent himself, he’s just proving that he can do the late-career acoustic release better than anyone else, blending his electric guitar prowess and ear for fingerpicked campfire melodies in a way no one else truly can.