It’s probably pure apostasy, but there are those of us who believe that the current version of Dinosaur Jr. is the best version of Dinosaur Jr. In their original form, Dino Jr. were ragged pioneers. They discovered, before so many others would, that scorching classic-rock guitar heroics were, if you pulled them off just right, perfectly compatible with sludge-punk sonics and with a sort of proto-emo sense of radical, open-hearted teenage vulnerability. They found new ways to let songs and noise coexist with one another. But they were also raw and unformed, and at least at times, they hated each other. By the time J Mascis rose to MTV semi-stardom, he’d jettisoned his old partner Lou Barlow, who was, by that point, writing diss songs about his old bandmate. So when Mascis and Barlow and original drummer Murph all reassembled in 2005 — when they radiated the feeling that they were old friends reconnecting, not estranged old co-workers chasing a paycheck — the feeling of warmth was just remarkable. And it was even more remarkable to see them sustain that warmth over a full decade, making music that felt like what they’d been hinting at during their first run together.
And they are on one hell of a run right now. It started with 2007’s Beyond, an album so good that some of us had no idea what the fuck to do with it. I’d put Beyond opener “Almost Ready” up against any song in the band’s history, “Freak Scene” and the “Just Like Heaven” cover very much included. The funny thing about Dino Jr. is that age becomes them. Mascis sounded like a tired, bemused old man long before he became one, and his ferocious fuzz-firing guitar skills haven’t dulled any. And where the members of the band often seemed to be struggling against one another on record, they’ve now found a deep and intuitive groove, one that they’ve continued to explore on each of their four post-reunion records. They’ve got access to better recording budgets now, and that helps, too. But the thing that matters most is their relatively newfound ability to trust each other, to go where the songs need to go. At this point, they’ve been together as a unit now for longer than they were the first time around. And they sound happier, more contented. Those years look good on them. Those years have only helped them.
Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not, the new Dino album, is probably the mellowest, most expansive thing they’ve done since getting back together. This time around, they’re less concerned with making rippers like “Almost Ready” (or, for that matter, “Freak Scene”). Their faster songs, like “Tiny” and “I Walk For Miles,” still hit like rays of sunshine. But they’re more concerned with atmosphere and grandeur. There’s an ease to it; it almost plays like a Sunday-afternoon garage jam session. The new songs typically aren’t in much of a hurry to get anywhere. Instead, they’re happy to sit in one place and twinkle for a while. Sometimes, as on the lovely “Be A Part” intro, it sounds like Mascis is holding his guitar sound up to the light, admiring it. There’s a pure pleasure to a song like “Lost All Day” — a song that’s about a breakup, even if it sounds more like a song about driving around in circles for hours and giving into the pure pleasure of aimless motion. There’s nothing much at stake in this music, but there doesn’t need to be. It’s rock for the sake of rock.
Still, my favorite songs on the album are the two sung by Lou Barlow. Barlow’s songs for Dino Jr. inevitably sound nothing like his songs for Sebadoh, or his songs for Folk Implosion, or the songs he releases under his own name. Instead, there’s a driving folk-music simplicity to them, and there’s also a bit of bite. “Love is the law,” he insists on “Love Is…,” a pretty raw sentiment for a middle-aged man who just went through a bad divorce. The album-closing “Left/Right” is oceanic Camaro blues with a trumpet that sounds like a guitar, or maybe a guitar that sounds like a trumpet. There’s a strong, high urgency to Barlow’s voice, and that sets his songs immediately apart from the others, from Mascis’ dragged-through-mud falsetto. While those Mascis songs luxuriate in old habits, the Barlow songs strain forward, searching for something missing in life. They both sound great, but there’s a little more vitality in what Barlow is doing. And on the songs where Barlow sings, Mascis’ amazing solos take on a little more melodic fire. These guys, after all, know each other well enough that they can join their strengths together and have each other’s backs. And it’s one of indie rock’s small miracles that they’re still interested in doing just that.
Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is out 8/5 on Jagjaguwar.
Other notable albums out this week:
• Wild Beasts’ uncharacteristic art-punk strut Boy King.
• Russian Circles’ grand, majestic post-rocker Guidance.
• Haley Bonar’s fuzzily layered Impossible Dream.
• Noname’s warm, nourishing debut Telefone.
• Creative Adult’s jangly, melodic postpunker Fear Of Life.
• Cheena’s grimy punker Spend The Night With…
• Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland’s bizarre solo electro LP Crystal Machete.
• Dogbreth’s DIY singalong Second Home.
• Izzy True’s rootsy, cathartic rocker Nope.
• Field Mouse’s bouncy, emotive Episodic.
• Tobacco’s corroded bedroom-popper Sweatbox Dynasty.
• Prinze George’s sparkly debut Illiterate Synth Pop.
• Blowout’s raw pop-punker No Beer, No Dad.
• Nels Cline’s solo showcase Lovers.
• Health&Beauty’s experimentally jammy No Scare.
• Dennis Dougherty’s country-folk LP Get The Angle Right.
• Corbu’s electro-pop full-length debut Crayon Soul.
• The beautiful flaming trainwreck of a Suicide Squad soundtrack.
• Mass Gothic’s Sub Goth EP.
• Kllo’s Well Worn EP.