What Do We Do Now
Label: Sub Pop
Catalog #: 71605
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What Do We Do Now is the fifth solo studio LP recorded by J Mascis since 1996. This is obviously not a very aggressive release schedule, but when you figure in the live albums, guest spots, and records done with his various other bands (Dinosaur Jr., The Fog, Heavy Blanket, Witch, Sweet Apple, and so on), well, to paraphrase Lou Reed, “J's week beats your year.”
What Do We Do Now began to come together during the waning days of the Pandemic. Utilizing his own Bisquiteen Studio, J started working on writing a series of tunes on acoustic with a different dynamic than the stuff he creates for Dino. “When I'm writing for the band,” he says, “I'm always trying to think of doing things Lou and Murph would fit into. For myself, I'm thinking more about what I can do with just an acoustic guitar, even for the leads. Of course, this time, I added full drums and electric leads, although the rhythm parts are still all acoustic. Usually, I try to do the solo stuff more simply so I can play it by myself, but I really wanted to add the drums. Once that started, everything else just fell into place. So it ended up sounding a lot more like a band record. I dunno why I did that exactly, but it's just what happened.”
Two guest musicians are playing this time out; Western Mass local Ken Mauri (of the B52s) plays piano on several tracks. Since J himself has some experience with keys, when asked why he needed a hired gun, he says, “Ken is great, and he plays all the keys. I tried playing some keyboards on the first Fog album, but I'm really only comfortable playing the white notes, so it's kind of limiting. [laughs] Nowadays, I could just turn the pitch on a mini Mellotron to play different sounds, but black keys just seem hard. For whatever reason, I just like banging on the white ones. Seems like it's harder to figure out how to stretch your fingers around the other ones.”
Mauri has no such qualms and plays all the keys very damn well. He sounds especially great on “I Can't Find You,” where he is Jack Nitzsche to J's Neil Young, creating one of the album's loveliest tunes. The other guest musician, Matthew “Doc” Dunn, is also prominent on this track. Dunn's steel guitar manages to both widen and soften the musical edges of the music, giving it a full classicist profile. Dunn is an Ontario-based polymath who J met through Matt Valentine. After J played on Doc's great 2022 Sub Pop single, “Your Feel,” he figured it was time for payback. Both Dunn and Mauri add beautifully to the songs here, helping to transform them from acoustic sketches into full-blown post-core power ballads.
What Do We Do Now is the finest set of solo tunes J has yet penned, and the way they're presented is just about perfect. Asked if he would be touring to support the album, J says he'll be doing some weekend dates, but he probably won't be putting a band together. And I'm sure these songs will sound great solo and acoustic, but the arrangements on this album are truly great and put a cool, different spin on Mascis' instantly recognizable approach to making music.
So, what do we do now? Not sure. But apparently, what J does is to make one of his most killer records ever. Hats off to him.