When it comes to not judging a book by its cover, alt-rock figurehead Joseph Donald Mascis Jr. is an example for the ages. Laconic to the extreme while fronting one of Slacker Rock’s most acclaimed groups, one would be forgiven for thinking that Masics was lacking in the productivity department. You’d be very wrong. He’s a member of five bands, regularly pops up in guest spots, has two signature guitars with Fender, and still finds time to release the odd solo record. ‘What We Do Now’ is his fourth full-length for Sub Pop, a series of sweet, hazy records that allow the songwriter a more relaxed outlet than his day job.
Put together during the end days of the pandemic, the ten tracks on offer have a more band flavour to them than before, with J opting to add drums and increased blistering leads than on his past three records. The effect is a strange one, resulting in an album that’s not boasting the bruising feedback jams of his primary outlet nor the indie campfire charm of ‘Tied To A Star.’ While we’re inclined to think J’s solo work shines better when he’s rocking nothing but an acoustic, this latest offering sees the great shredder living up to the self-appointed ‘world’s loudest country band’ tag.
The aforementioned acoustic guitar is still at the heart of these songs, but as seen on summery opener ‘Can’t Believe We’re Here’, these songs are for road trips and not mellowing out at home. The following title track cements this point, J showcasing his deft drum work and unleashing one of his trademarks, face-melting yet bittersweet solos. How a man can add such emotion and melody through such fuzzed-out tones is a fact many musicologists have tried to understand and failed.
‘Right Behind Me’ will no doubt prove a fan favorite. A total earworm boosted with some bouncy keys courtesy of Ken Mauri of The B-52s. It’s a poppier Mascis composition, sharing DNA with ‘I Ran Away’ from 2021’s ‘Sweep It Into Space.’ Another highlight is the foot-tapping melancholy of ‘Set Me Down,’ a song that makes heartbreak far catchier than it deserves to be.
While hardly reinventing the wheel with ‘What Do We Do Now,’ J has yet again delivered a set of songs that only an enigma like he could. These numbers are laid back yet passionate, upbeat yet fragile – true sing-a-long stompers for those who like to air-guitar with wild abandon.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart