Building upon Several Shades Of Why, his solid solo debut with Subpop Records three years ago, Tied To A Star is an intimate revision of his quieter side with 10 tracks that have all the heart of just happening to be around when Mascis picks up a guitar. Half the songs sound so spontaneous that you can almost imagine him smiling, "Hey, listen to this. It's something I've been working on ..."
It could be said that the album was almost approached this way. It was recorded and produced by Mascis and mixed by John Agnello at Bisquiteen in Amherst, Massachusetts. Some of his friends who turned out to make guest appearances include musicians Ken Maiuri (Young@Heart Chorus), Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion) and Chan Marshall (Cat Power).
Tied To A Star captures the quiet contemplation of J Mascis.
Don't expect too much roar from his guitar, drums and vocals on this album. While his brilliance shines through, almost all of it is handled as delicately as his interviews. The lyrics are laconic, the tone is soft and precise, the treatment is heartfelt and dreamy.
The lead track, Every Morning, recently appeared on Funny Or Die as a video featuring Mascis as a cult leader named Space Angel. The cast includes some great guest appearances too, including James Mercer, Peter Holmstrom, and Fred Armisen.
Although Every Morning has an upbeat tempo and crisp guitar work that stands out like a second chorus, the lyrics are not especially cheerful. In short, Mascis makes the case that it's a struggle to make it through the morning. Wide Awake, which was also released in advance of the album, is much more cheerful.
It opens with some amazingly gentle guitar work right out of the gate. The track paints the picture of Mascis waking up ahead of his partner and wondering about their life together. He's eventually answered by Marshall with a response that merely echoes him as the song matures into a duet. It's treated as a tender, private moment that Mascis compresses into the confines of a few minutes.
Much like both tracks allude to, Mascis has abandoned much of the minimalist nature of Several Shades Of Why and expanded his solo compositions to include texture. His guitar work remains the cornerstone of this album throughout. His tender and restrained vocals only lend a distant and often lonely uniqueness in comparison.
Heal The Star is probably the best track on the album, with both a signature strum and strained falsetto until the uptick toward the end. The instrumental Drifter captures what some mistake as a slacker sensibility. And Then and Trailing Off are relaxed indie rock numbers that will remind some people of Several Shades Of Why, except with much more musical depth than an acoustic alone.
There are some instrumental shifts and surprises on both tracks before Mascis eases into his closers. Come Down an Better Plane are thoughtful pieces, with the former being modestly hopeful.
Tied To A Star By J Mascis Rounds Out 7.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Tied To A Star is exactly what someone might expect from a J Mascis solo album. It's not groundbreaking as much as it is a glimpse at his mastery of music. Anyone who appreciates his work will fall for this one.
You can find Tied to a Star [+digital booklet] by J Mascis on Amazon or download the album from iTunes. The vinyl edition of Tied To A Star is listed on Barnes & Noble. J Mascis is touring to support the album. For tour dates and venues, visit him on Facebook.