Ode to falling: J. Mascis-- older and better?

Call out the dogs and set up the torture chamber, for the following statement will be regarded as heresy by some idie-rock elitists here in town. I actually like the new solo album by former Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis better than all the old Dinosaur Jr. stuff I’ve ever heard. I never really got into the Dinosaur, and it definitely wasn’t because of lack of exposure– everyone and their mother had 1993’s Where You Been? playing on their stereo.
But something never quite sat right in my early ‘90s pop/rock-addled brain. To me, singer/songwriter/guitarist J. Mascis’ pot & alcohol, Neil-Young-on-acid whine was just too much. Also, I thought all the songs were strikingly similar, and don’t even get me started on the songwriting.
Recently though, I got hold of J. Mascis’ new album, Free So Free, from his new band, J. Mascis & the Fog (pretty much just J. Mascis), and I have to admit I kind of dug it.
Founded by Mascis in 1984, Dinosaur Jr. combined guitar virtuosity with a lo-fi sensibility that drew close those who didn’t particularly agree with the hair-metal mainstream. Over the course of seven studio albums, stretching from 1985 to 1997, the group helped set up what came to be known as “alternative rock”– a pin which Nirvana was to come along and knock down most convincingly– saw grunge wax and wane, and finally broke up themselves in 1997.
Free so Free is a concept album, about– as unlikely as it sounds– skydiving. As might be expected, three song titles have the word free in them, and according to Mascis, many of the songs were composed while he was in mid-air.
"There’s something about reaching terminal velocity that really helps you open up," the songwriter is quoted in the press pack. “Freedom” kicks off the album, with Mascis laying down a convincing but simple drum beat. Bass enters, and then some absurdly simple guitar riffing– both provided by Mascis. Nice, but not amazing.
The album really gets going on track three, “Set Us Free.” From the climatic opening of sustained chords and crashing cymbals, everything seems to work in this song. The melody fits Mascis’ multi-tracked vocals perfectly. The guitar riffs boom and buzz in the foreground, and yes, Mascis gives us a pristine guitar solo. Further on, songs like the Big Star-influenced “Tell the Truth” and the staccato-fest “Say the Word” keep things going strong, leading to one of my most treasured things in the world: an album you can listen to all the way through.
The guitar gods that drove the Dinosaur Jr. of old have returned from Valhalla to lead our hero into another epic adventure, and they brought a few of their songwriting muses along with them. In a world of burned out superstars and lame solo projects, J. Mascis has definitely been blessed.

J Mascis & the Fog with special guest Ben Lee perform at Starr Hill on February 13. $15/$13 advance, 9pm.

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