Review: Heavy Blanket ‘Moon Is’

To any fan of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s American alternative rock underground, Amherst Massachusetts’s J. Mascis needs no introduction, but to the uninitiated, I will give the cliff notes version. Mascis has long been the guitarist and songwriting legend for American indie icons Dinosaur Jr., and prior to that he cut his teeth in northeast hardcore legends Deep Wound, along with Dinosaur Jr. bassist Lou Barlow. He is also the drummer in Massachusetts stoner doom legends Witch, to say nothing of his awesome, melancholic, solo records.

Heavy Blanket 'Moon Is'

He is among the very best guitarists of his generation, to say the least. His compositional skills, musicianship, emotional, melancholic lead work, and warm, fuzzed-out riffs are the stuff of legend. As well, he’s one of the handful of guitarists that upon hearing a single note, you know it’s him. Instantly. However, it’s not just about his riffs, and mind-bending shred abilities, as he’s completely capable of crafting notes together that will tug at the heartstrings. J. Mascis plays with as much feeling as any guitarist I’ve heard.

Another project of his is the instrumental, psychedelic, riff-vortex band, Heavy Blanket, which has allowed Mascis to explore that side of his musical persona, and 2012’s Self-Titled album was greeted with open arms and ears to music fans around the globe, curious about the heavier side of Mascis’ musical persona. Heavy Blanket also released a mind-blowing split with Earthless in 2014, In A Dutch Haze, which is a clinic in psychedelic, free-form shredding. Mascis put Heavy Blanket on hold focusing on Dinosaur Jr. and his solo output, but it seems he has stockpiled enough psychedelic, fuzzy, proto-metal riffage, that he decided it was time to pull Heavy Blanket from the closet.

Moon Is, the first new music from Heavy Blanket in almost a decade, represents everything we’ve come to expect from this project. Opener Danny begins with a clean, early ‘70s style strumming before Mascis begins his signature shred. His note choices and riffs are stellar as always, and Danny moves along at a brisk pace, featuring many peaks and valleys. As always, Mascis’ shred takes the spotlight, the fuzzed-out leads he effortlessly conjures out of his Fender are all at once ripping, soulful, and melancholic, in other words, J. Mascis doing what he does best.

First single Crushed gets a little heavier as the fuzzed-out main riff offers slightly more menace than what we heard on Danny. His chugging, warm, fuzzed-out tone is absolutely wicked, as he moves through riff after riff, before dropping into one of his signature leads around the two-and-a-half-minute mark. Mascis proceeds to wail away, as a breakdown riff accompanies him before bringing the track full circle toward its conclusion.

the fuzzed-out leads he effortlessly conjures out of his Fender are all at once ripping, soulful, and melancholic, in other words, J. Mascis doing what he does best…

The title track, Moon Is, perhaps my favorite on the album, opens with a killer, earworm bassline delivered by Mascis’ mystery bass player, locking the groove down, anchoring the song, like an ancient ship at port. Yes, this bassline carries that much weight, and it allows Mascis to wail away, delivering all sorts of emotions and notes as only he can conjure out of a guitar. Moon Is, to my ears is the centerpiece of the album, and it revolves around the duality of Mascis’ uber-shred and that bassline that will be stuck in my head until I’m pushing up the daisies. String Along meanwhile is a clinic in proto-metal riffage and Mascis shred. He’s able to take the listener through many twists and turns, conjuring a variety of feelings out of his Fender, while simultaneously melting the listener’s face off.

The penultimate track, Eyevoid, offers up a monstrous proto-metal riff which features, as always, an impeccable tone, that gets the body moving, before Mascis unleashes yet more of his psychedelic shred across the top, carrying Eyevoid throughout its many peaks and valleys. Meanwhile, closer, Say It To You, easily the most melancholic song on Moon Is features some distant vocals; Mascis himself? His wife? Kim Gordon? Who knows as any musicians that have joined him in Heavy Blanket seem to be a mystery on purpose. The sad, melancholic yet heavy riff that anchors the song, allows Mascis to unleash the musical alchemy that seems to effortlessly pour out of his fingers. Once again, his warm tone and unparalleled shredding abilities take center stage, but in a tasteful way. Truly an epic track, and the perfect album closer to Moon Is, his note choices once again hitting that aural sweet spot.

Mascis’ rhythm section on Heavy Blanket has been a mystery, but honestly, and I cannot verify this, it wouldn’t surprise me, nor would it be too far-fetched to suggest the ‘mystery’ is Mascis himself, as he’s beyond capable of doing all of this on his own. That is just speculating though. I guess the closest sonic comparison to Heavy Blanket would be Earthless, undoubtedly why they joined forces in 2014, but Heavy Blanket, and J. Mascis himself, proffer such unique, peerless guitar tone and style, I’d argue it sits in its own sonic space.

Being the music nerd that I am, I’ve complied multiple lists over the years featuring my ‘Top Twenty’ favorite guitar players, and Mascis has always found himself in the top ten on said list, his tone, compositional skills, and psychedelic, melancholic, fuzzed-out, uber-shred has always been very welcome to my ears going back to the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. He’s as unique of an individual as we have in rock and roll, practically peerless in some ways, and as with all his releases, I enjoyed the shit out of Moon Is. It’s early in 2023 but I wouldn’t be surprised to find this on my year-end best-of list somewhere.

Label: Outer Battery Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp

Scribed by: Martin Williams