Graded on a Curve: Heavy Blanket,
Moon Is

Over a decade after releasing a self-titled debut, Heavy Blanket has returned with Moon Is, out on vinyl, compact disc, and digital January 27 through Outer Battery Records. Featuring J Mascis on guitar, the bass and drums are respectively credited to (the suspiciously fictive duo of) Johnny Pancake and Pete Cougar. Sans vocals, the nature of Heavy Blanket’s sound is reflected in the moniker. Folks who enthusiastically soak up the “classic” hard rock elements in Dinosaur Jr.’s kitbag should step up without hesitation.

I won’t categorically deny that Johnny Pancake and Pete Cougar exist, but the colorfully humorous backstory attached to Heavy Blanket’s debut, where these bandmates are introduced as a couple of Mascis’ high school chums and playing partners in a youthful side band circa the winddown of the now-legendary early ’80s Massachusetts hardcore band Deep Wound (which featured Mascis on drums and Lou Barlow on guitar, don’tcha know), is almost certainly a tall tale. A head injury, a prison stay, and Pearl Jam also figure into the narrative.

Sporting a cover drawing by Tim Lehi of four dudes and a groundhog hanging out in the woods, with the whole bunch leisurely lounging while seemingly cooking yet another dude in a sizable pot over a bonfire (as the rodent is fully invested in the proceedings), Moon Is retains the backstory’s sense of humor as the album offers six tracks, three per side, with the opener on each stretching out a bit. “Danny” on the first side lasts nearly seven minutes and “String Along” on the flip reaches eight.

“Danny” is the catchier of the two, though both are essentially vessels of expansive soloing and Mascis’ immediately recognizable tone. And that’s a fitting description of Heavy Blanket’s raison d’etre, in fact, or to put it another way, Mascis is leaning into the “stoner rock” side of his musical personality, all while resisting self-indulgence or inspiring boredom through the exaltation of tired-ass, frequently blues-rocking clichés.

Part of what has kept Mascis’ playing fresh both in and outside of Dinosaur Jr. is his consistently engaging approach to melody; never does he succumb to undercooked yet overwrought studio jamming as a virtue. Instead, Mascis writes songs, and even at his heaviest, he knows that a song is more than just a bombastic riff. And if occasionally long, the songs here are sharply executed, lean and energetic rather than plodding.

Mascis’ songwriting acumen (which is more overtly displayed in some of his acoustically inclined solo releases, as well as Dino Jr. proper) is only heightened by the heaviness on display throughout Moon Is. In “Danny,” the Sabbath-esque string friction is audible, while “Crushed” is a lithe yet thundering riff mauler readymade for headbanging and hairwagging. Those with a special place in their hearts for Dinosaur’s “Sludgefeast” will approve.

The title track dishes a comparatively relaxed foundation—really, it’s the only cut on the record that kinda calls out for lyrics, or at least singing, though the absence isn’t a deficiency, partly as it has J’s fretboard burning slathered all over it before a slow fade out. Neat. And in soaring solo terms, nothing on Moon Is beats the appropriately titled “String Along,” though the relatively concise (at 4:19, the shortest cut on the record, at least) “Eyevoid” packs a major wallop. “Say It to You” is well-calibrated blister thud for the close.

Mascis does get some help on Moon Is from verifiable humans Dave Sweetapple on bass and Graham Clise on rhythm guitar (however, Sleazy Crisp and Chunky Stump are unverifiable). Non-ostentatious yet finely tuned, Heavy Blanket is very much a showcase for this incomparable guitarist.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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