Sound — 7
At this point, J Mascis' resume has more items on it than most restaurant menus, if not all. Starting out with his short-lived hardcore band, Deep Wound, the band would soon dismantle and lead to Mascis' primary calling card, Dinosaur Jr. Though Dinosaur Jr. would be the most fruitful music endeavor for Mascis, it wouldn't be his exclusive outlet for music, and he would also act as the drummer for the metal band Upsidedown Cross. Once the 21st century came around, Mascis would only get busier, and even with the return of Dinosaur Jr. In 2005, Mascis would get involved in even more projects, including being the drummer for the metal band Witch, guitarist for the rough-and-tumble-rockin' Sweet Apple, and guitarist for the psychedelic project Heavy Blanket. With all these projects currently being juggled, it's fair to assume Mascis is some kind of alien life-form that doesn't require any kind of rest, and as if Mascis needed more pages in his planner to fill, he's been focusing on his solo work in recent years as well. As opposed to the loud and grungy sound Mascis became known for, with his first solo album, "Several Shades of Why," listeners got to hear a more reserved, coffeehouse-style musical side of Mascis to add to the feast-sized table of music he's provided. Now, he taps into that side again with his second solo album, "Tied to a Star."
Listening to the quaint opening track, "Me Again," supposition would lead to the conclusion that this album will be more of the same sleepy acoustic compositions from Mascis, but in fact, "Tied to a Star" brings more to the table than its predecessor; most notably, energy. Whether or not it was because of the droves of Dinosaur Jr. fans just not being able to get on board with the acoustic calmness of "Several Shades of Why," Mascis includes substantially more electric guitar throughout the album to amplify the acoustic foreground. This takes form as indirect support in tracks like "Me Again," "Heal the Star," "Stumble" and "Come Down," as well as more grandstanding leads in "Every Morning," "And Then," "Trailing Off," and the Santana-esque "Better Plane." But it's not only the increase of electric guitar usage that makes "Tied to a Star" more lively, and Mascis' initiative for a more upbeat disposition is channeled in the base acoustic element as well. The fast chord-strumming in "Every Morning" easily puts a spring in the album's step, the slower-starting "Heal the Star" and "Trailing Off" both shift into faster, more energetic sections at the end, and the vocal-less "Drifter" plays in a peppy acoustic folk style that evokes Led Zeppelin's "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp." But of course, "Tied to a Star" includes its delicate sections, and while "Stumble" progresses as intriguing as a car ride through the desert, the lush fingerpicking in "Come Down," the wide instrumentation in "And Then," and the heart-aching duet with Cat Power on "Wide Awake" make for satisfying, lower-geared tunes.
Lyrics — 7
Most likely because it complements the acoustic-driven music so well, Mascis' lyrics in "Tied to a Star" are sculpted into forlorn depictions of failed love, disconnection, and an overall struggle to corral his insecurities, and Mascis articulates this in two polar ways. The first is the more conventional emotional confessionals, where he bears his depressive thoughts and feelings out on the tracks for easy interpretation - from the soul-sucking relationship in "Trailing Off" ("operated on your side/I left everything behind/twist a piece over my head/I've been lying here instead/I forgot to save a piece for me"), to the broken self-confidence in "Every Morning" ("every morning makes it hard on me/then I wake up to who I'll never be/then it hits me here's the life I lead"), to the unsure and unlikely mending of a failed relationship in "Wide Awake" ("waiting for an answer/waiting for the time/looking for a way out/not sure where to hide"). The other way Mascis paints his pain is in basic repetition, which, while can easily be argued as being nothing but lazy, Mascis' harping on one thought over and over again - like the "how much can I take?" bridge in "Trailing Off," the woeful, self-aware pining of "sentimental me" at the end of "Me Again," and the incessant request for help in "Come Down" - ends up articulating the inability to move on from one's antagonizing thoughts, which works well for the album's "broken spirit" theme.
Overall Impression — 7
Mascis successfully sets "Tied to a Star" apart from the predecessing "Several Shades of Why" by expanding it in numerous ways. From changing gears and channeling different influences, to adding more electric power to the equation, he helps prevent the monotony that can come with an album built off of an acoustic guitar. And even with Mascis' extra focus on the electric guitar parts, he doesn't let that element swallow the album up, and makes sure that the acoustic elements not only stay prominent, but are well-crafted. While those that want/expect unsullied acoustic work from Mascis on his solo albums may be disappointed with the increase of electric guitar in "Tied to a Star," it seems Mascis' choice was for the better, and whether you listen for the acoustic licks or the electric licks, Mascis' guitar-finesse is essentially what makes the album a wholesome listen.