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Heavy Blanket
Moon Is Brian Coney , January 27th, 2023 08:53

J Mascis, shredding. What more do you need? asks Brian Coney

If there’s a rock iconoclast with less to prove than J Mascis, good luck hearing them above his Babelian wall of Marshall and Hiwatt stacks. Thanks to two wildly successful spells fronting Dinosaur Jr, a literal god in appropriately loud Adidas clothing, his status as alt-rock’s supreme maximalist is unfuckwithable. What better time, then, to release a no-stakes, getting the old band back together-type record than now?

The net result of a “raid on a stash of leftover riffs,” Moon Is isn’t so much a meat-and-potatoes release by Mascis and old pals as a side serving of Smash that’s a little lukewarm and kind of bitty. But let’s face it: a) it was always bitty to begin with; b) it’s still perfectly palatable; and c) as we’ll soon discover, it may as well be the mid 80s so everything is in its right place.

The fuzzed-out side-hustle of Heavy Blanket first arrived in 2012, seven years deep into Dinosaur’s infinitely improbable reunion (the story goes Mascis and two long-lost schoolmates, with the Viz-esque names ‘Pete Cougar’ and ‘Johnny Pancake’, jammed for the first time since 1984 and decided to cut a record). As Dinosaur’s comeback LPs Beyond and Farm helped restore some dignity to the Kings of Leonisation of American rock, Heavy Blanket flew under the radar, an amp-blown curio for Mascis acolytes above all else. While the jury may still be out as to whether Mr Cougar and Mr Pancake exist, eleven years on, Moon Is is another throwback meld of proto-metal and lo-fi rock instrumentalism that puts cutting loose (yes, mainly guitar solos) front and centre.

It’s never unreasonable to assume that J Mascis was born compelled by the power of the riff. On his latest Nietzschean eternal return to the basement, amp-blown reverence for genre titans still plays muse. Filtering Thin Lizzy-like harmonies and guitar intervals beloved of Maiden, ‘Danny’ pairs tumbling drums and a textbook wailing solo to equally summon Ty Segall. A feat of straight-up Sabbath worship, ‘Crushed’ doubles down on the drubbing garage scuzz. In the hands of pretty much anyone else, bar Tony Iommi, its chugging triplets might veer into pastiche. In the capable hands of Mascis, who has also drummed with pre-Dinosaur hardcore heroes Deep Wound and, more recently, stoner metal band Witch, his tack-sharp instinct for a jam guides a steady raft of riffs and thrashy refrains.

He may not be Montserrat Caballé but there’s always been a distinct charm to Mascis’ croaky, buried vocals. Early on here, its absence is a little hard to shake, even inviting the odd phantom refrain to fill the void (good luck resisting an Ozzy-like “Alright now!”) Blessedly, by the time the title track hits, lyrics feel curiously gratuitous on Moon Is. Like Fugazi spin-off The Messthetics, it’s a song – ripping guitar solo included – whose melodic palette makes all the difference. Nowhere is that fact more full-blown than on ‘String Along’. Essentially an eight-minute guitar solo, it sees Mascis span sublime territory via a trademark blitz of major and melodic scales. Mr Cougar and Mr Pancake more than hold their own.

There’s some way to go but it’s hard to envision an album less self-conscious or affected as Moon Is being released this year. Just as Dinosaur Jr 2.0 have nurtured that sweet spot between familiar yet fiercely assured, it knows exactly what it is and who it’s for. A cynic might suggest “just because Mascis can, doesn’t mean he should” but, to level with this cynic: I’ve been microdosing and we’re all going to die alone so I’m somewhat inclined to say let’s not get too deep into it. The guy wrote You're Living All Over Me, you know? Have a listen.