Thursday, December 1, 2011

Circle By J Mascis Completes Shades

Ever since Joseph Donald Mascis a.k.a. J Mascis covered the song Circle by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians for Kevin Cole with KEXP Seattle, some people have been asking Sub Pop Records to put it out as a single. Mascis also plays it at live solo shows.

The cover was originally included as a bonus track of his album Several Shades Of Why, released last March, but only as a bonus on the Japanese version. The video with KEXP is especially great because Cole is authentically perplexed to hear it, even asking Mascis "That's not on the new album … what is that song?" Mascis laughs "'s on the Japanese version."

Circle is an important missing link to Several Shades Of Why.

Covering Circle was one of several ideas Megan Jasper with Sub Pop came up with after convincing Mascis to make a solo album. While the cover doesn't eclipse the original by Brickell, it's a fitting compliment to the composition and seems to capture the soft-spoken off-stage side of Mascis, known for answering interview questions in ten carefully chosen words or less. 

Music has always been his first language, whether he sings, plays guitar, or sits behind the drums. With Circle, he hits everything right even if the layered vocals don't play as well as they do when he is live and straightforward like he played it for KEXP. 

Releasing Circle was clearly a smart choice by Sub Pop, along with I've Been Thinking on the b-side. The release breathes new life into Several Shades Of Why, which garnered positive reviews but not nearly the level of fan support one might have anticipated, especially with support from such talents as Kurt Vile, Ben Bridwell, and Sophie Trudeau. 

The reason for some fans holding out support is misguided but understandable. J Mascis wasn't looking to make a Dinosaur Jr. album and his decision to make it an acoustic album, without drums, drove the entire project in a different direction. Regardless, for people who know music, Several Shades Of Why was Mascis' best compilation of new, old, and covered songs in a long time. 

More often, he is content to engage in side projects and collaborations when it feels right. It doesn't always matter whether it feels right for everyone. Anyone who wishes more of Witch would have sounded like the opening song Seer knows what I mean. But no matter, Witch not lasting opened the doors for Farm or Beyond from Dinosaur Jr. and possibly his first full-length solo. 

Maybe some will reconsider him with the release of Circle. For those unfamiliar with it, Circle was one of Brickell's defining songs as a singer-songwriter. It represents a sound several people, myself included, wishes she would return to. Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars is still worth a spin.

But maybe that's the point. As much as anyone could make a case for Mascis to stick to his phenomenal guitar work and beautifully rasping vocals, Brickell can chart her own course. Much like the song says, "nothing's good enough for anybody else, it seems." But then again, maybe that's why Mascis' rendition is such a compliment. Brickell was almost pained in the original where Mascis wears it like a second skin.

Circle By J Mascis Runs Around At 6.9 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

Circle is certainly a must-have, especially for anyone who appreciated Several Shades Of Why. For anyone else, it serves up a gentle reminder why the solo album deserves a second listen. Tracks that merit ample attention include: Listen To Me, Not Enough, It Is Done, Where You Are, and What Happened. By the way, if you ever wondered, Mascis goes by "J" because he was Joseph Jr. 

You can pick up Circle by J Mascis on iTunes, and listen to a few tracks from Several Shades Of Why.   You can also find the original version by Brickell there. Circle b/w I've Been Thinking by J Mascis can also be found on Amazon. Barnes & Noble carries a vinyl release of Several Shades Of Why, but it does not include the single.
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