It’s one of the most recognisable, and oddly endearing, sounds in modern alt-rock – J Mascis‘ anguished sigh of a voice, which sounds like he’s always thinking that staying in bed most of the day is preferable to… well, just about anything else. You’d think it wouldn’t be an attractive sound, especially in a man in his sixth decade, but like The Wedding Present‘s David Gedge, Mascis’ unconventional voice has its own type of beauty and is perfectly suited to his songs.
That voice is usually buried beneath an avalanche of guitar noise in Mascis’ day job as leader of Dinosaur Jr: a band that has survived a number of versions and are currently on their 11th studio album. Mascis’ solo work though has always been somewhat more gentle – not necessarily more melodic, as Dinosaur Jr have always had a strong way with a tune – but the arrangements are more acoustic and often more accessible.
Elastic Dreams continues Mascis’ progression as a solo artist. Where Several Shades Of Why and Tied To A Star were collections of fragile, frail folk tunes, here the setting is somewhat more muscular. This time round, there’s drums (played by Mascis himself), guitar solos (albeit a bit more laidback and less incendiary than Dinosaur Jr fans may be used to) and fine, unobtrusive support from his regular solo collaborators Mark Mulcahy and Pall Jenkins.
See You At The Movies is a lovely starter, a breezy, folky opener which manages to be both bright and optimistic and yet still drenched in sadness, with added pathos being found in Mascis’ delivery of lines like “Finding you was easy, but finding me is hard”. That opening track’s mood of relaxed strumming is maintained throughout – sometimes the pace picks up, as on Picking Out The Seeds, and sometimes it’s more downbeat, as on the gorgeous ballad I Went Dust, where the vocals of Zoe Randell from Melbourne indie duo Luluc give an extra emotional depth.
That emotional punch runs through the album, despite the fact that, lyrically at least, Mascis remains as abstract as he’s ever been. Sometime is as vague as its title would suggest (“everybody needs a little some time, I want it some time”), and Wanted You Around has the rather uninspiring chorus of “sit me up to tell me when, try to take it up to them”. Yet Mascis’ delivery makes it sound like he’s on the verge of giving everything up, which makes it sound all the more affecting.
Generally, there’s a rather cosy feel to Elastic Days – you can imagine the gorgeous stroll of the title track keeping you company through the long winter months, and although some may bemoan the lack of variety on display through the album, it’s hard to deny that it makes for a very pleasant 41 minutes. The bite of Dinosaur Jr’s best work may be missing, and there’s admittedly not much that stands next to the likes of The Wagon or Start Choppin’. However, as a snapsnot of an artist at a particular time in his career, it’s an enjoyable diversion.