Given that he's spent the past quarter-century playing in some of the loudest bands in the world — most famously Dinosaur Jr. — it's a little surprising that J Mascis has finally made a solo acoustic album. But that's not quite what Several Shades of Why is. It's a solo record aside from a host of guests, including Kurt Vile and members of Black Heart Procession and Broken Social Scene, and acoustic aside from occasional tracer-effect smears of electric noise (most memorably on "Where Are You").
The clearest model for Several Shades of Why, in fact, is Neil Young's more meditative solo outings. That's not too surprising: There's always been a thick strain of Young in Mascis's performances, from his ability to make the most of an unpretty, sleepy croak to his adoration for the guitar's range of sound. More than anything else, this is a guitar record: a demonstration that "acoustic strumming" is less a specific style than an entire little galaxy of possibilities of tone, technique and mood. And for a drumless album, it's got a lot of propulsion and sonic depth, as well as the occasional nod to the classic rock Mascis grew up on: The album's title might have Queen's "Seven Seas of Rhye" encoded in it.