Guitar hero J Mascis dissolved Dinosaur Jr. in 1997, even though the name had always been a front for Mascis as a one-man band, with only a few collaborators. Usually, when a musician switches monikers, it indicates a change in direction, but Mascis "solo" closely resembles Dinosaur Jr., as does Mascis with his new backing band The Fog. The guitarist's willingness to abandon a moderately well-known brand indicates he's ready to join the ranks of low-profile rockers who give up trying to break through, instead settling into cult status. Which is unfortunate, because as with his first Fog album, 2000's More Light, the new Free So Free finds him in fine fettle. He's singing better than ever—his attenuated Neil Young whine has developed into a deeper, mellower, less distracting instrument—and his arrangements of percussive punch and fuzzy guitar have rarely sounded so effortlessly rocking. Mascis has never written conventionally catchy songs, and the pieces that comprise Free So Free don't change up the pitch: The choruses amount to little more than the song title flatly stated with minimal melody, and the guitar hooks are based more on Mascis' ability to squeeze out a cool sound than on any kind of killer chord progression. But his well-established boredom with the limitations of rock instruments assures that he'll pack as much sonic variety as he can imagine into every song, and if nothing else, Free So Free is lively. The lyrics return repeatedly to the exhilaration of being alive and in control, and Mascis' music matches that feeling. "Bobbin'" floats along on the counterpoint of grunge guitar and a T. Rex sting, until 90 seconds in, when Mascis ups the tempo. After singing about how doubt helps him get through the day, he launches into a guitar solo as furiously expressive as any in his repertoire. He pours his heart into sensitive ballads like "Someone Said" and the title track when he's not tearing through crackling, upbeat rockers like "Freedom" and "Outside." On the winning "If That's How It's Going To Be," he even brings the sides together, stopping a bleeding-heart acoustic lament halfway through to bring in the screech. It's business as usual for Mascis, a welcome blast of nostalgia for the beautiful noise of a decade ago, made for the fans who were there from the beginning.