J Mascis’ mellower muse shapes Tied To A Star
by Emmet Matheson
Tied to a Star
The summer I turned 16 I installed carpet out in Fort Qu’Appelle. Every morning my boss Stacy would pick me and my friend Jon up and drive us from Southwest Regina out Highway 10 to the job site. Stacy would play his tapes on the hour-long drive. I don’t even remember what he played –– Garth Brooks, Steve Miller Band, Bryan Adams –– just that it was the worst stuff when you’re 16 but you can’t say anything because it’s your boss.
One day, dropping us off, Stacy said we could bring a tape the following day for the drive out. This was 1993, and I was into some pretty obnoxious shit back then, but I tried to pick something that wouldn’t be too offensive. Something that was still, to me, identifiably rock music. The next morning I put Dinosaur Jr.’s Where You Been into Stacy’s tape deck. That album opens with the screeching feedback shredding of “Out There”, and, well, my days as a carpet-layer were numbered.
I think Stacy might be more appreciative, however, of Tied to a Star, the latest solo album from Dino Jr. frontman J Mascis. It’s, by his pyrotechnic grunge wizard standards, a pretty chill album. He still cranks it here and there –– and when he does, yeah, you bet, ear-splitting beauty –– but mostly it’s pretty quiet.
No matter the volume, though, Mascis always makes music that sounds like it belongs in a cathedral or on a mountaintop. For all his slacker vocal delivery, the instrumentation never lacks a sense of epic grandeur. Mascis sets that tone right off the bat with “Me Again”, a softly introspective number built around a gentle phrase of finger-picked guitar, reverb and an arrangement that manages to sound lush and sparse at the same time. The next song, “Every Morning”, sounds like the Flaming Lips did in 1993 (“She Don’t Use Jelly”) — or rather, how they would’ve sounded with J Mascis up front.
But the real draw of Tied to a Star is that it’s not just a J Mascis solo album, it’s a J Mascis falsetto solo album. Falsetto has always been one of Mascis’s go-to moves, and he really goes to it a lot here.
Must be where all his displaced roaring guitar solo energy is going.
The Wooden Sky
Let’s Be Ready
The Wooden Sky’s 2007 debut, When Lost At Sea, stunned me. It felt more important than most of the releases from their Canadian alt-country peers. In fact, it probably was more important, but it never got the attention it deserved. Subsequent records explored more expansive sounds and songwriting, but Let’s Be Ready marks a powerful return to an intense, raw sound.
What initially drew me to their debut was frontman Gavin Gardiner’s rich storytelling, delivered with a twangy drawl that was emotive and at times vulnerable. This time around, the twang remains but all vulnerability has been replaced by sheer confidence.
While their previous efforts have forged a respectable fan base and deserved media praise, Let’s Be Ready leaves them poised for some next-level shit. /Michael Dawson
The members of Sloan have always taken about an equal share of the songwriting. This time out, they’ve each handled not only a quarter of the songs, but a contiguous quarter of the record, thus making Commonwealth a four-way solo debut 23 years in the making. Each program is exactly what you would expect from its writer if you’ve followed Sloan’s trajectory. Guitarist Jay Ferguson opens with a suite of ELO-rooted pop gems. Bassist Chris Murphy brings the requisite wordplay and the last vestige of their Twice Removed-era sound. Guitarist Patrick Pentland’s songs have names like “Keep Swinging (Downtown)” and sound as desperate as a 40-year-old’s sudden, conspicuous interest in motorcycles. Drummer Andrew Scott provides one 18-minute track that bridges sound collage and Velvet Underground stomping. So it’s not the most consistent album. Fortunately, it’s well-paced. And if nothing else, Sloan has now gotten the “solo album” thing out of its collective system. /Mason Pitzel
Rich Aucoin is in search of all the pleasure buttons locked away in people’s heads. He wants to find the ones that work for him, and mash them again and again. On his records and especially live, the Halifax artist wants to bring listeners to euphoria, a fact especially clear on his second full-length, Ephemeral. The trigger the once one-man band, now full-lineup touring act, pulls most often on this album is in line with Broken Social Scene, go-for-broke indie-pop that wants to sound big and anthemic. Aucoin’s minimal dance-rock (similar to acts like LCD Soundsystem), always shows an ear for an electronic hook that might set a live audience on fire. Songs are punctuated by big-gang vocals, recorded live during Aucoin’s last tour, though you wouldn’t necessarily know it to hear it. The mix works well, hitting the broad emotional swaths Aucoin is aiming for. Ephemeral should provide kindling for dance parties far into the future. /James Brotheridge