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J Mascis + The Fog - Free So Free

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Artist: J Mascis + The Fog

Album: Free So Free

Label: Ultimatum

Review date: Nov. 4, 2002

Land of the Free

With all of the recent hubbub commemorating 1991 (the year that punk broke), it would seem only logical that retrospectives would focus in on those who may not have been at the forefront of the public’s eye, or at least not on the cover of Spin Magazine. Instead, aided by nicely packaged reissues, attention has centered on two fantastic no-brainers: Pavement and Nirvana. Meanwhile, those who chugged away, rather than burned out, continue to do so unaided and uncommemorated. High on this list is J Mascis, formerly of Dinosaur Jr., who has quietly released three excellent solo albums (as J Mascis and the Fog), two of them during the past two years. These solo albums are, for the most part, no different from any Dinosaur Jr. release, and exhibit songwriting that is as strong as anything Mascis has ever penned. The newest album from Mascis and the Fog, Free So Free, is the album that Warner Brothers wish they would’ve gotten from the ’91 Mascis, hits and all.

Mascis’ chosen route of thick, straightforward rock has changed little since he first began releasing records, and Free So Free could easily pick up from any point in his career. Songs done under J. Mascis and the Fog moniker differ very little from those done as Dinosaur Jr., and Mascis’ songs are still simple, clever, and catchy. Here, his guitar is sludgy and dense as ever, but as with More Light (the previous J Mascis and the Fog release), the production and timbre of the recording captures Mascis’ guitar tones with full clarity and grinding power. Like his friend and sometimes recording parter Robert Pollard, Mascis seems to pull from an unending well of innovative chord progressions and melodies, but while Pollard’s floodgates remain perpetually open, Mascis seems to be more of a mind to pluck and perfect, or at least refine. And indeed, over 10 songs and forty minutes, Free So Free does not have a notable weak spot. The noteworthy moments come only during the high points: “Freedom,” “Bobbin’” and “Tell the Truth,” each of which could have outdone “Feel the Pain” with or without the golf carts.

As the title hints, “freedom” is an overarching, theme of Free So Free. Even the song titles – “Freedom”, “Set Us Free”, “Free So Free” – speak unabashedly of this theme. And contrary to what one might think, it’s not a spiteful or political freedom, but more of an exploration of various personal freedoms. Cursory attention to the lyrics might suggest that this album was made during a period of self-doubt and frustration; perhaps he is seeking freedom from himself, his peers and his life. Lines like “Ohhhh / Help me be still / Ohhhh / Give me some will” and “What it feels like when it’s gone / What would need to tag along / How it works and what went wrong / It’s freedom” would certainly support that theory. However, biographical aids suggest that Mascis is actually referring to past experiences like “the emotional highs of (Mascis’) first parachute jump” and the fact that “The lure of the hot sky is no more possible to resist than a half-pipe.”

Perhaps it is to Macsis’ advantage that he is free of tribute, and of retrospective scrutiny. He is free to behave and create exactly as he has for the past fifteen-plus years, and we’re all the better for it.

By Sam Hunt

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