by Nick Adams (@n1ck_adams)
It’s a rewarding time to be a J Mascis fan. The Dinosaur Jr. frontman has introduced a steady stream of quieter solo work to complement the legendary band’s mid-2000s reunion, a combined seven releases in 11 years. Since the trio’s second comeback album, 2009’s Farm, Mascis has followed every Dinosaur Jr. record with one of his own—mostly-acoustic fare that allows J’s tenderness to exist alongside his virtuoso guitar work. Though plenty of Dinosaur Jr. songs are emotional, the stripped-down nature of these solo records gives J’s vulnerability room to breathe. On Elastic Days, his third release on Sub Pop, Mascis is working at his simplest, delivering wounded ballads that cut deep without lingering.
Structurally and sonically, Elastic Days is the most consistent album of Mascis’ solo work. Each song adheres to a basic formula—each with a strummed acoustic foundation, each within a one-minute range in runtime (most clustered right around three-and-a-half minutes), each with a guitar solo in the back half. Though some of the tracks accelerate for a more energetic finale, the Elastic Days experience is a calming one—your vibe won’t be disrupted by anarchic detours like “Poledo” or “Don’t” from Dinosaur Jr.’s early days. The guitar solos never intrude, even when they soar (and of course they’re gonna soar). Mascis’ vocal melodies sound effortless and he rarely repeats choruses wholesale, instead constantly reshaping lyrics within familiar structures, deftly creating songs that are alive and fluid. The gentleness of J’s delivery obscures the aching self-doubt contained within his words; these songs are imperfectly working through a loss.
Elastic Days is a first-person narrative, filled with “I”s and “you”s, that latter of whom remains unspecified but is unquestionably intimate. The album deals in reflection and regret, and looks back upon a failed relationship. The self-deprecation in “See You At The Movies”—”I don’t peak too early/I don’t peak at all”—feeds into the defeated outlook of the song, which lives in a state of grief, shock, and reluctant acceptance. One of the closing couplets has a heartbreaking twist: “I'll see you at the movies/The movies in my head,” the kind of double take that happens post-break-up.
Most of Elastic Days exists in the past tense—J is asking questions about what went wrong and wishing he acted differently, but never with melodrama. Ever the enigma, Mascis is difficult to pin down—is he desperate? wry? indifferent? We can’t expect simple answers. In any case, lines like “Talking about the rattle of our love/Trying to find the shadow of our love” have rarely sounded more elegant.