Album Reviews

J Mascis – What Do We Do Now

(Sub Pop) UK release date: 2 February 2024

There’s something weirdly comforting about hearing the Dinosaur Jr man’s whispered croak of a vocal, and the moments where he turns down the volume work best

J Mascis - What Do We Do Now What’s the difference between a Dinosaur Jr album and a J Mascis solo album, you may ask? The answer, usually, is when Mascis goes solo, it usually sounds pleasant and pastoral, rather than full-on rock. Albums like Several Shades Of Why and Tied To A Star demonstrate his softer, acoustic side, rather than the howling guitars he’s more famous for.

This time around, although there are subtle differences, What Do We Do Now sounds far closer to Dinosaur Jr – Mascis’ world-weary vocal delivering songs about vulnerability, yearning and human weaknesses, while the odd incendiary guitar solo is fired off. Unusually for a Mascis solo record, a full band has been brought in to give these tracks a bit more beef than would usually be the case.

Dinosaur Jr are still very much a going concern, which may come as a surprise to anyone who remembers their heyday in the early ’90s, when “creative tensions” led to Lou Barlow leaving the band and forming Sebadoh. Since they reformed in 2005, they’ve released five albums, but Mascis has still found time to explore his (slightly) softer side.

What Do We Do Now, his fourth solo album, was written on acoustic guitar and then recorded in slightly more muscular fashion with a full band. The results sound, unsurprisingly, rather like Dinosaur Jr – opening track Can’t Believe We’re Here bursts into life and rushes through proceedings, with a pleasingly squealy guitar solo, but it’s Mascis’ tired, croaky voice that gives the song its depth.

The moments where Mascis turns down the volume work best. You Don’t Understand Me has an almost country-like lope to it, while I Can’t Find You tugs at the heartstrings, thanks in part to some beautifully atmospheric steel guitar work. The title track also takes things down a notch or two, and perfectly meshes both the acoustic and electric side of Mascis’ songwriting.

The only issue is that, over the course of a 45 minute album, Masics’ style can drag a bit. When his songs lose Barlow’s influence, they can tend to lose a bit of energy, and as What Do We Do Now reaches its conclusion, you may be a bit weary of mid-paced plodders like Old Friends and Hangin’ Out. They’re not bad songs as such, there’s just not too much to distinguish them as more than filler.

Yet there’s more than enough on What Do We Do Now to please long-term J Mascis’ fans. There’s something weirdly comforting about hearing that whispered croak of a vocal, and 35 years after his masterpiece Freak Scene was released, it can remain as affecting as ever.

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More on J Mascis
J Mascis – What Do We Do Now
J Mascis – Elastic Days
J Mascis – Tied To A Star
J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why
Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis: “Where I live, a Benz is a bit much. People would think you’re a dick” – Interview