It’s been twenty-seven years since The Year Punk Broke, the film that captured Nirvana on the cusp of exploding onto mainstream radio and bringing with them, by virtue of association, bands like Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Butthole Surfers, and Dinosaur Jr. Of all these, it would seem Dinosaur Jr. fit most comfortably into the “new rock” playlists of terrestrial radio. J Mascis’s worn croon and scorching guitar on tracks like “The Wagon,” “Get Me,” and “Feel the Pain” made sense for radio (they were classic rock songs in every sense of the word), even though they weren’t necessarily transgressive to the ear—and only those in the know would be aware of the band’s noise and punk thrash roots. Mascis has been especially prolific since getting the original trio of Dinosaur Jr. back to the studio in 2005, and he’s been able to expand on a solo discography that began with 1996’s Martin + Me.
Elastic Days, his latest solo project, shows off the folk strum and slow burn that haunts every record Mascis has been a part of. Sure, the electric squall is dialed down, but he still can’t help inserting a burning solo into tracks like “Picking Out the Seeds” and “See You at the Movies”—like a scorpion tail-strike, it’s in his nature. This is an album driven by acoustic guitar and drums (both played by J, naturally), but with a more natural flow than his last solo effort, 2014’s Tied to a Star, which had more folk jam moments. This is a gentler affair, and even the strumming, up-tempo “Cut Stranger” feels like a summer breeze. But that’s the Mascis magic: he softens the blow with an undercurrent of sadness, longing, pain, and disassociation—a tendency that has been present since “Freak Scene” blew minds in the late ’80s.
Decades after the mainstream’s punk pivot, Mascis is still the master: The proof is in the folk-psych perfection of “Sometimes” or the jangle-pop of “See You at the Movies,” both chock-a-block with his dynamic guitar work and slo-mo drawl, once mistaken for slackerism, now packing a glut of experience and an ever-widening discography of melodic mind-melters.