J. Mascis' 2014's solo effort Tied to a Star follows the formula set down by 2011's Several Shades of Why, with acoustic guitars dominating the performances rather than his usually punishing electric attack, and the songs favoring gentler lyrical and melodic themes than is Mascis' stock in trade in Dinosaur Jr. But Several Shades of Why was a fine album and Tied to a Star is one of those rare examples of a sequel being every bit as satisfying as the original. If anything, Tied to a Star suggests Mascis has been working on his vocals over the previous three years, and if he hasn't entirely abandoned his trademark mumble just yet, there's a greater precision in his singing that fits the more nuanced tone of this music. Mascis mixes up electric and acoustic instruments on Tied to a Star, even as acoustics take the lead, and this album is an outstanding showcase for his picking -- Mascis' acoustic work is rich and imaginative, and with the volume turned back and some of the fuzz swept off his usually fuzzy tone, the electric accents are more versatile and restrained than Mascis' reputation would lead one to expect. A more than capable drummer as well as a guitarist, Mascis handled most of the instruments himself on Tied to a Star (with a bit of help on keyboards and guitar from Ken Maiuri and Pall Jenkins, and a vocal spot from Chan Marshall on "Wide Awake"), and the performances and production have a warm, intimate feel that fits the more compact scale of this music without diminishing its presence or power. And these songs show that while music is Mascis's strong suit, not lyrics, he sounds thoughtful and intelligent in a way much of his other work does not. J. Mascis is developing a distinct persona for his solo work, and so far it dovetails nicely with his other projects, sharing certain virtues while having a mind of its own, and Tied to a Star is another step in an unexpected and quite welcome career evolution.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming