Premature Evaluation: Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
No worries, nobody should (or could) have expected Dinosaur Jr.’s reunion record Beyond to be so alive — and so good. The deservedly legendary Amherst, Mass band’s post-split squabbling is well-documented (re-listen to Sebadoh III if you need your memory jogged), but shaking off the rust, tightening the bonds, and defying expectations, the group returned older, grayer, and seemingly on better terms, but with plenty of energy and chops for the second acts of their storied career. As we saw in the “Over It” video J, Lou, and Murph are clearly psyched and synching. So, do they wipe out on the second post-reunion collection, Farm? Not at all. When we heard “I Don’t Want To Go There” live and caught site of that amusing green-minded album art, we had a good feeling about Farm, but it wasn’t until we were able to listen to the dozen tracks that we knew for sure that Dinosaur’s ninth studio album Farm is another satisfying collection.
If we wanted to quibble, though, we’d have to note that Farm‘s less interestingly textured and raw than Beyond. Throughout, the solos are still there (and fucking how!) and J’s voice crackles in all the right ways, but Beyond offered up more shit and fuzz, which is what many of us want from Dinosaur Jr. You don’t get anything as atmospherically classic sounding as “Crumble.” The guitar never touches the raggedness it found on “Almost Ready” or Barlow’s “Back To Your Heart.” Farm is Mascis at his most appealingly heartbroken — like he’s been taking heart-wearing lessons from Lou B. — but the sounds themselves are easy, breezy, smooth. You know the mid-tempo, anthemic second track “I Want You To Know.” It’s a good song. Well, there are mid-tempo anthemic tracks after it that aren’t as memorable. It’s certainly no sludgefest. And forget about another hissed-out “Poledo.” An older, comfier Dinosaur? Maybe. Then again, we can’t expect “Repulsion” (or Dinosaur in general) in 2009 …. the guys are at a different place than they were then. (Folks who enjoyed Where You Been more than Green Mind or the early material might not mind.) That’s more of an aesthetic preference, but if Farm does have more quantifiable faults, it’s the way the songwriting itself can occasionally suffer from orderliness, i.e. too many sound the same. A good example’s the bland “Friends,” which (minus the closing solo) just sorta lopes along.
The first half of the album is full of great jams (“Pieces,” “I Want You To Know,” “Over It,” etc.) but it’s the lengthy, slower-paced songs that define the later part of the collection, saving it from a string of too many same-y mid-tempo post-Green Mind slacker/stoner tracks. The almost eight-minute “Said The People” and almost nine-minute “I Don’t Wanna Go There” grow elegantly into engaging epics, suggesting you don’t always need to be raging against the dying of the night … you just need to be raging against too many mid-tempo post-Green Mind slacker/stoner tracks. Barlow’s windy, baroque “Your Weather,” which sounds oddly like “California Dreaming,” also offers a fine chance of pace, as does his bass-y closer “Imagination Blind.” Then again, that’s something he’s always brought to the tracklists.
Anal Dinosaur fanaticism aside (raise your hand if Living All Over Me, Bug, and Green Mind are a few of your favorite, most defining records of all time) Farm is a good album. Maybe even a really good album, if you’re feeling generous. But it’s not a great album: It doesn’t rank with the classic band collections or Mascis’ best solo kicks. Know what, though? Even at that point, these guys easily school more than a fair share of youngster indie upstarts, kids who’ll maybe never have a “classic” album (let alone a few) when they mobilize for a Wavves-curated ATP event in 2023. Finally, importantly, they actually sound like they’re having fun: In an “indie scene” that feels more and more like a business model, this isn’t a post-prime band back to cash in on the action. All that > is better than > shit aside, it’s one of American rock ‘n’ roll’s best “underground” power trios literally doing what they do best. And nobody should bother trying to hold a candle… or a bong.
Farm is out 6/23 via Jagjawugar.