Copious amounts of feedback and legendary guitar solos
In a recent interview with comedian and podcaster Marc Maron, J Mascis delves into his upbringing in Amherst, Massachusetts. Though he lived in New York for a time, Mascis eventually returned to his birthplace, explaining in a low drawl, "I don't know where to go. I've been so many places and I go home and it just... doesn't seem that bad."
It's just one of many choices Mascis has made by simply abstaining from choosing. The reason he learned guitar? In the absence of any guitarists he liked, he thought it would be easier to teach someone to play the drums (his first instrument) than the axe. The story behind his iconic jazzmaster? He'd driven several hours to a guitar shop with $400 to buy a Fender Stratocaster but, being $50 short, went for the next best option. His unique playing style? Starting out, he couldn't make many shapes on the fretboard, so he played what we could. To this day, he still can't name most of the chords he plays.
These details might be less surprising if Mascis weren't one of the most influential guitar players in indie rock; just last year, SPIN ranked him number five in their list of 100 greatest guitarists of all time and Mascis' band Dinosaur Jr has been featured in books such as Our Band Could Be Your Life by Michael Azerrad, a document of the most important underground rock bands of 1981 to 1991.
He'd be easy to hate if he weren't so genuine. He joins the likes of Pavement's Stephen Malkmus and Built to Spill's Doug Martsch in the category of over-achieving slacker rockers, though where Malkmus and Martsch imbue their work with a tongue-in-cheek humour, Dinosaur Jr's lyrics tended to be more straightforward (or at least less strange), Mascis' worn-yet-velvety quaver giving every line a real homey feeling, even on the early lo-fi recordings where his hardcore influences were still relatively noticeable.
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After seven albums, tours with support acts like Nirvana and festival appearances with The Jesus and Mary Chain and My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr split in 1997. Mascis went on to release two solo albums under the name J Mascis and The Fog. One story (told by Mascis) goes that The Fog were playing Iggy Pop covers so well, Pop decided to reform The Stooges out of frustration. It wasn't long until Dinosaur Jr reformed, too, with original bassist Lou Barlow (who left after 1988's Bug and went on to release seven albums with Sebadoh).
It was a reformation in the best possible sense of the word. The first album, Beyond, received rave reviews across the board. Its follow-up, Farm, was even better – instead of a return to form, an elaboration on previous work, it was the sound of a band warmed up and making something infinitely more confident. It had heavier, catchier, ballsier riffs and the best melodies of their career.
Last year, they surprised fans with an announcement – not of their break-up – but the third record, I Bet on Sky. It clearly takes influence from Mascis's 2011 solo acoustic album Several Shades Of Why, which is not half as disappointing as it sounds; in fact, it features some of his best songwriting yet, in cuts like Not Enough and the title track.
Sky is jaunty and laid-back, perhaps their cleanest record ever, though still featuring copious amounts of feedback and Mascis' legendary guitar solos. The last time we saw Dinosaur Jr we had tinnitus for a week. Earplugs recommended.