During the late 1980s, Dinosaur Jr. emerged into the alternative rock scene, taking on the trademark hard rock sound and infusing it with the use of distortion and an ample dose of feedback. The band went on to release a series of records, finding early on a trademark recipe in stellar releases such as You’re Living All Over Me and The Bug, and from that point on simply kept circling these elements. Before their breakup in the late ’90s, vocalist/guitarist J Mascis began releasing his solo works, unveiling a different side of his creative potential.
On his debut record Martin + Me, Mascis switched from the heavy distortion of his main band and the hard rock aesthetics towards an amalgamation of folk, world music, country, and rock. Composing more intricate and delicate songs, the works of Mascis displayed a kinship to Neil Young’s solo work. Still, Mascis would come to release his most potent work as a solo artist a few years later with the mesmerizing Several Shades of Why. The stripped down, minimal aesthetics and the melancholic quality of the record formed a great combination, and one that Mascis followed with his next album Tied to a Star, and now his new full-length Elastic Days.
The strongest weapon in Mascis’ arsenal is the warm sensation that his acoustic guitar brings. The start of the opening track “See You at the Movies” is a prime example of that effect, letting on a sense of ease with its opening strums. Through the many delicate moments of the record that aspect always remains a constant, conjuring a deeper emotive sense, as is the case with “Drop Me”. The lead parts of the acoustic guitar display a similar approach, producing a hypnotic result, as is the case with the beginning of “I Went Dust”, dropping some fantastic melodies and creating an otherworldly sense. On the other hand, the sparse electric guitar provides a further layer of rockiness to this work, enhancing the emotional tonality of the album. No matter if it appears distorted or with a cleaner perspective it is always presented at the right time and with the ideal melody, as occurs in “Web So Dense”.
Where Elastic Days breaks new ground for Mascis is in the use of drums, which are prominent throughout this work. As a result, the album makes a move towards a rockier sound and slightly away from the folk aesthetic, and this provides the record with more energy and a more pronounced sense of urgency. The past solo works of Mascis displayed an ethereal presence, aided by their decoupling from a pronounced rhythmic component, but here the drums act as an anchor to the music. They add a more pronounced sense of movement and progression, and they produce more powerful moments, as is the case with the breaks in “Cut Stranger”.
At the end of the day, Mascis produces an expected work with Elastic Days. From his trademark vocal delivery, enhanced by the performances of guest vocalists Paul Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion) and Zoe Randell (Luluc), Mascis’ provides the storytelling element with his trademark sense of lyricism. The balancing between folk and rock is still present; the songwriting is straightforward, yet endearing. Even though this is not a revolutionary work, it shows that this guy is a great, skilled songwriter and Elastic Days displays all the wisdom he has gathered through the years.