April 30, 2005 at 6:46 pm #108031
Sweet Nothing SNCD-037
Â£12.99 UK Post-Paid
Definitively packaged reissue of the first album from the earth quaking trio of guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow and drummer Murph. Dinosaur Jr pretty much single-handedly put the sound of immolating rock guitar back on the map in the mid-to-late 80s and this first album sounds even better after all the intervening years, with a sound that touches on weird garage punk moves, goth, hardcore, wired loner country and overloaded acid rock while still managing to sound like nothing else. Thereâ€™s a weird auraless distance to much of the recording that would make it pretty hard to date in a blindfold test and there are some straightforwardly great songs: â€œRepulsionâ€May 6, 2005 at 6:47 pm #108032
Finally, and in a completely self-indulgent manner, Londonist couldn’t let this column slip by without mentioning the re-release of the first three albums from those Grandfathers of grunge, those Sultans of slack: Dinosaur Jr. Although remastering Dinosaur Jr seems about as logical as removing the stripes from a plaid shirt it’s a great reason to get reaquainted with J Mascis, Lou (Sebadoh/Folk Implosion) Barlow and Murph’s ear-bleeding country (ok, so we stole that from their best of cd, but it works). Crunching alt. riffs swamp intricate melodies whilst Mascis’s voice is so lazy it almost doesn’t exist. Always too cool to be cool they pretty much created the lo-fi DYI mentality currently espoused by Graham Coxon et al. So on that note we’re off to crank up the stereo and wonder why our parents just don’t understand us…May 15, 2005 at 7:48 pm #108033
May 13, 2005, 10:56AM
By ANDREW OLIN
Original Article: http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/ae/music/albums/3180772″>http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mp … ms/3180772
Merge Records excavates some early Dinosaur Jr. from the pre-grunge era Ã¢â‚¬â€May 19, 2005 at 4:53 pm #108034
transformParticipantMay 20, 2005 at 1:35 am #108035
maxiniParticipant"ANDREW OLIN " wrote:These probably aren’t CDs you still listen to regularly so many years later
Oh, but they areJune 17, 2005 at 8:21 am #108036
DINOSAUR JR – Dinosaur Jr (Shiny)
YOU’RE LIVING ALL OVER ME – Dinosaur Jr (Shiny)
BUG – Dinosaur Jr (Shiny)
Melbourne label Shiny Records have gone the whole hog and re-issued remastered versions of seminal American band Dinosaur Jr’s first three albums in Australia and New Zealand. Two decades after they first appeared, it does feel funny trying to apply a critical analysis to albums that defined a time and place in so many people’s lives (and arguably presaged that thing called grunge, from an American perspective at least). Anyway, let’s have a stab at it.
Dinosaur Jr came storming out of small town America (which easier to spell than Massachusetts) armed with a couple of chords and a determination to be different from the hardcore scene that spawned them. It was (is) a genre with rigid limitations. There were a lot of less rigid ideas than the format would’ve allowed swirling around in the heads of guitarist/singer J Mascis, drummer Murph and bassist Lou Barlow – and it seems like they were determined to let all of them loose at once on their self-titled debut album. It’s scrappy, under-produced and all over the shop, but also exposes elements of what made them great when they peaked on "Bug".
"Dinosaur Jr" goes from new wave-tinged rock-pop of "Forget the Swan" to the frankly dire live closer of "Does It Float", and all parts inbetween. The album’s a patchy curiousity that points the way to what was to come. If you ‘re a diehard, you’re going to want it. If you’re not and only have the later records, it might be interesting enough to attract, for all its flaws.
Mascis was (and still is, when he puts his mind to it) a truly gifted guitarist, and if his alternately plaintive and whining vocals can grate or delight, they can’t be ignored. By the time "You’re Living All Over Me" came around he’d refined his vision on both scores. The guitarwork is scorching, and his voice runs the range from angst-ridden screams to resigned crooning (and that’s just on the opening track!)
Some of the tempos drag (and change, midway) but there’s enough rough-edged hooks and dissonance jumping in and out of the mix (a la "Raw Power") to make this a fascinating ride. Jagged and dreamy, sometimes miked up close, and then distant. The juxtapositions sit well throughout, but especially in a song like "Just Like Heaven" whose sudden cessation (what’s a fade?) was (another) attempt at unnerving the unwary.
No need to labour the (amplified) Neil Young comparisons but they were never as obvious as on "Bug". The grizzled old Canuck had an obvious influence on the pick of the crop of bands of which Dinosaur Jr was a part (years later he’d return the compliment by inviting Sonic Youth on tour, although Neil was barely seen in their company, by all accounts). All those commonalties (the circular lead breaks and the vocal tonalities most prominent) coalesce in crystal clear focus on album number three.
And how. "Bug" is one of the best US records of the ’80s.(:mrgreen:) Powerful and more structured than its predecessors, it’s all about guitars, guitars and guitars, in all their bleeding, ear-ringing, distorted glory. Acoustic beds ("Pond Song") battle walls of stunning cacophony ("Don’t") driven by Murph’s now monster drumming. If the increasingly distant Mascis and Barlow weren’t on talking terms by then, the album’s all the better for the underlying tension (which would ultimately deep six this line-up shortly after). The single was "Freak Scene" and it defines Slacker Culture to be a template for a thousand college wimp acts that wouldn’t hold a candle. Not sure whether to say thanks.
Dinosaur Jr, or more correctly Mascis, would make other records, but this one is the pick for a non-obsessive like me. Props to Shiny for taking the plunge and giving wings to it and its predecessors all over again. The timing seems inspired, not only for a generation of mature slackers, but a whole new crop of potential fans. Ã¢â‚¬â€œ The BarmanJune 25, 2005 at 4:06 am #108037
Dinosaur Jr. |You’re Living All Over Me |Bug
By Mark Keresman
Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005
One great thing about history is examining why something happened and how it continues to impact more recent developments. Take Dinosaur Jr., which is generally acknowledged as one of the American indie-rock bands of the mid-1980s — but why? Now that Merge Records has rereleased the group’s first three albums, neophytes have an opportunity to find out. Dinosaur Jr. guitarist/singer J. Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph emerged from the hardcore punk scene that arose in the wake of the "class of 1977," i.e., those disaffected youth disdaining the concept of the guitar solo. No longer stuck in the stone ages of the Ramones and the Clash, the members felt free to apply hardcore’s ferocity to pre-punk (Neil Young, Stooges) and metal (Dio, Black Sabbath). The artless, shambling Dinosaur Jr. (1985) was in a way their "blueprint," and sounded like the product of several aesthetics overlapping: louder/faster/shorter; six-string squall incorporating psychedelic flourishes and power-chord slabs; slightly rustic, spacey folk-picking; and vocals either drawled indolently or frenziedly screamed. The follow-up, You’re Living All Over Me (1987), mightily built on that foundation, as evinced by the unrestrained wah-wah’d guitar orgasm and hazy, Byrds-like harmonies of "Little Fury Things" and Mascis’ Summer of Love-on-steroids solo on "Kracked." Elsewhere, the trio gets as noisy as mid-’80s Sonic Youth, albeit in a more organic manner. The third and last disc by the original Dino Jr. lineup, Bug (1988), presents the band as tighter and more accomplished (though certainly not slick), which is ironic, as the trio was about to implode. Possessing a slightly cleaner, less metallic, janglier guitar sound, Bug’s pretty, sweetly melodic songs (the folk-rock-tinged "Pond Song" and the yearning midtempo "Yeah We Know") are lent savor by the contrasting closer, "Keep the Glove," which begins as an amiable, loping country-flavored ditty before shattering into a surreal shower of glistening distortion. After Bug, Dinosaur Jr. basically became the J. Mascis Band, never again displaying the inspired, ungainly summits experienced hereJune 25, 2005 at 4:29 am #108038
Dinosaur Jr. reissues illuminate bandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s ingenuity, effect
the long review
Precious few bands are completely distinguishable. Upon hearing the first note, chord or strum, they immediately return you to your virgin listen. Often these are bands that make their musical journey in relative obscurity (meaning apart from the mainstream) but still manage to lay influence far and wide.
Dinosaur Jr. is one of these bands. Merge records has made a supremely lovely gesture, reissuing the first three Dinosaur Jr. recordings with expanded liner notes and videos.
Dinosaur began in the mid-Ã¢â‚¬â„¢80s as Deep Wound, playing a speedy and rectangular form of hardcore. After the usual lineup musical chairs and some necessary maturation, Deep Wound became Dinosaur (the Ã¢â‚¬Å“Jr.Ã¢â‚¬? was pinned on after they became famous, when an anachronistic Dinosaur came slinking out of the woodwork in protest). The enigmatic J. Mascis switched from drums to a guitar that he took to playing as loud and hard as possible. Lou Barlow, who later formed Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, played bass. Murph played drums.
Dinosaur is like a lot of albums made by kids just out of high school: musically incontinent. Opener Ã¢â‚¬Å“Blubs of PassionÃ¢â‚¬? takes a cue from Sonic Youth; Ã¢â‚¬Å“Forget the SwanÃ¢â‚¬? would have fit well as an outtake from the CureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Three Imaginary Boys. This was no cookie-cutter teenage outfit. The back cover photo says it all: J. looks as if heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s spent too much time with Nick CaveÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stylist (a la Birthday Party), sporting some crazy dungeon masterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pendant; Lou is a cross between Sally Jesse Raphael and Ira Glass wrapped up in a Cosby sweater; and Murph Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ well, Murph is Murph in greasy Texaco wear.
Underground press, support from the bandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s idols (tours with Sonic Youth and Nirvana would come), and two years of maturity brought 1987Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s near-perfect YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Living All Over Me. Certainly being signed to cream-of-the-cred California punk label SST bolstered their confidence, and Dinosaur became a band ripe with pop sensibility. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Little Fury Things,Ã¢â‚¬? Ã¢â‚¬Å“SludgefestÃ¢â‚¬? and Ã¢â‚¬Å“In a JarÃ¢â‚¬? became anthems for kids in second-hand clothes and horn-rimmed glasses. The band even returned to the Cure with a cover of Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just like Heaven.Ã¢â‚¬?
With J.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s recognizable nasally vocals, and the distinct ability to rock your emotional fuckinÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ socks off, the band was real.
Bug took Dinosaur one baby step backwards, an album recorded a year later as the band crested on a wave of international touring and good press (the rise of grunge was nigh). The album would be the bandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s biggest seller, and produce perhaps indie rockÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first guitar-laden mantra, the prototypical Ã¢â‚¬Å“Freak Scene.Ã¢â‚¬? It also became the album that major label A&R types used to help the newly birthed Ã¢â‚¬Å“indie rockÃ¢â‚¬? genre appear Ã¢â‚¬Å“credibleÃ¢â‚¬? to record executives.
Tighter and cleaner than its predecessors, Bug is what one hopes for a truly innovative band, that despite a little misstep, there is apparent growth and a musical foreshadowing in the recording. With a perfection of song craft comes the appearance of the heart. Dinosaur Jr. is a band built on earnestness, volume and an underrated virtuosity.
BY KIM SORISE
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Living All Over Me (1987)
GrungeJune 25, 2005 at 4:35 am #108039
Merge Records, 2005
By Patrick Whistler
In terms of reissues, this is a bit rubbish. We get the videos for "Freak Scene" and "No Bones," and a few anecdotes in the liner notes, unlike fellow late-’80s/early-’90s anti-image mob Pavement, who release reissues packed with unreleased songs, original demos, and lost B-sides. But in the case of Bug, what this reissue does is reintroduce us to a band we loved, who may have been slightly pushed to the back of our CD racks by the more successful bands of that era. And while the more puritanical fans out there may cry out against that scandalous accusation — in any case, it’s nice to have a reason to listen to them again.
And now they’re re-forming with the original lineup of J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph to play a string of shows in the US, as well as a couple over here in Merrye Olde Englande(e). But, unlike the dozens of bands from the same point in time who reunite only to prove that they belong in a very certain time and place, while listening to Bug, I’m struck by the freshness of these songs. "Freak Scene" is still millimetres away from a flawless track: a perfect blend of lyrical and musical confusion, it still packs an almighty punch, which puts today’s imitators to shame. "Don’t" is still wonderfully nightmarish, all sludgy riffs and textures backed up by a static roar, while "Pond Song" shows a surprising coherency, blending folk acoustic with scattershot electric riffs and brought together by Mascis’s sublime vocals — which although he is usually most commended for his masterful guitar work deserve a good deal of credit.
However, the wonderful thing about the songs on Bug are that they somehow manage to be intricately structured by musicians at the top of their respective games while retaining a simplicity that almost forced the youth of America and the UK to form literally hundreds of horrible Dinosaur Jr.-rip-off groups. Which, to me, is the true mark of a great band: that (for better or worse) they can inspire thousands to make music which is unassailably inferior. Just look at "The Post," a track on which there is a constant tug of war between Mascis’s medicated vocals, and his stone-sober, straightforward, but highly effective guitar work. It winds down and you’re just left sitting there going, "I want to do that."
Thankfully, most of us couldn’t and Dinosaur Jr. remain a volatile but highly original band who have stood the test of time, with this record as proof. And although they did go on to make some great albums, these tracks show a band at their best, and if anything this reissue (and the reissues of Dinosaur and You’re Living All Over Me) is equally to remind you of, and reintroduce you to, a truly great band.
A version of this review originally appeared on http://www.thegenghis.com.July 10, 2005 at 2:04 pm #108040
These slacker rockers are back to share their bare-bones beats
By ANDREW OLIN Houston Chronicle | Sentinel Staff Writer
Posted July 1, 2005
Jul 1, 2005
By the time Nevermind broke in 1991 — launching Nirvana to scary heights and opening the floodgates for a jillion grunge bands the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and countless copycats — the original Dinosaur Jr. was already two years dead.
Now, 16 years after the breakup, J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph have patched Dinosaur Jr. back together, venturing out on tour, including a stop Thursday at Orlando’s House of Blues.
So it’s no coincidence that Merge Records has dug up and reissued the band’s first three albums: Dinosaur Jr. (1985), You’re Living All Over Me (1987) and Bug (1988). The decision to bring these albums back to stores is only logical, taking into account the reunion and the fact that the average ticket buyer was barely crawling when Dino’s original lineup split.
But in the late ’80s, Dinosaur Jr. was among the first wave of bands — along with the Minutemen, Sonic Youth and HÃƒÂ¼sker DÃƒÂ¼ — to sign with independent labels, in this case SST Records.
The groundbreaking band helped birth "slacker" rock — all bare bones with no energy wasted. Mostly, Mascis and Barlow channeled their passion into concentrated rock, anger and heartache. Mascis was the heavy-metal lover’s Robert Smith: smart and dark and serious, but without ever sounding forced or pretentious.
Barlow and Mascis formed Dinosaur Jr. a year after the breakup of their previous band, Deep Wound, in 1984. Just as New Order’s early recordings retained some of Joy Division’s sound, Deep Wound is all over Dinosaur Jr.
The band was, in a word, loud. With song titles like "Bulbs of Passion," "The Leper" (sporting lyrics like "embarrassed to be alive"), "Pointless," "Repulsion" and "Severed Lips," the album is no light lunch. Mascis’ cracking, high-pitched voice is distinctive, and the perfect sweet counter to the sour and dour music. He holds the whole thing by a thread over the brink of a pitch-dark hole.
Most of the songs on Dinosaur Jr. pack plenty of meaty — and sometimes heavy-handed — guitar, bass and drum parts. And Mascis never shies away from a gratuitous guitar solo.
"Does It Float" is tame until near the end when it spills open with screams, noise and pain. "Repulsion" — with the intriguing lines "the world drips down like gravy/ the thoughts of love so hazy" — is the catchiest song on the album. And "Quest" is sweet and melodic.
There’s plenty more ax-wielding theatrics on You’re Living All Over Me. Two of the best offerings are "Kracked" and "Sludgefeast." The latter’s head-nodding rock tangents are complemented by a plaintive Mascis’ sweet whines of "I’m waiting, please come back/ I’ve got the guts now/to meet your eye." Just when you thought they were done, "Sludgefeast" is capped off with a satisfying final flurry of guitar.
Best title goes to the opener, "Little Fury Things," one of the album’s two standouts; "The Lung" is the other. The set wraps with an unearthed and interesting cover of the Cure’s "Just Like Heaven," which ends midsentence, achieving an effect that at first seems sloppy, but after another listen or two makes sense.
"In a Jar" is another catchy song on which Murph’s drumwork takes the lead. There’s so much great guitar on the album that at times the solos border on the chintzy. But Dinosaur Jr. mostly made music for Dinosaur Jr.; the drawback is there isn’t a lot of variation between the songs.
Bug gets an excellent start with "Freak Scene," both a great song and one that packs broader appeal. Dinosaur Jr.’s third album continues a natural progression toward completeness: It’s the most polished work by the unpolished trio.
"No Bones" smartly adds more acoustic guitar to the electric mix. "Let It Ride" and "Pond Song" are notable as well.
Bug is easily the best of the three reissues. Its songs are the most interesting and eclectic, though one mistake, "Don’t," is a jumble of noise for noise’s sake as Mascis attempts to convince someone — perhaps himself — that Dinosaur is still a very hard-rock band.
Dinosaur Jr.’s greater purpose — inspiring others to love music as its members did, to start a band, to get curious about music — is found on these recordings. And that’s the greatest thing that can come from these remastered CDs: A new batch of fans will be exposed to a band like Dinosaur Jr.
Copyright Ã‚Â© 2005, OrlandoJuly 10, 2005 at 2:08 pm #108041
Reissues of three sludgy touchstones bring a key band back to life.
Dinosaur/YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Living All Over Me/Bug
In 1988, the little-known Amherst, Massachusetts, trio Dinosaur was forced to change their band name after a group of California rock has-beens called the Dinosaurs threatened legal action. Thus, Dinosaur became Dinosaur Jr., an amendment that many fans considered a travesty. But the new name proved far more durable and descriptive: Dinosaur Jr. werenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t just immense, they were also agile. The band moved fluidly across styles and dynamics, their sludgy sound lumbering mightily but changing direction abruptly like some prehistoric predator.
In the beginning, the band — guitarist J Mascis, bass player Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph — wanted to make ears bleed. They played their shows at maximum volume, and that more-is-more aesthetic informed their first album, which at the time of its release in 1986 was eponymously titled.
Dinosaur, which Merge Records is reissuing along with its two follow-ups, sounds rough and unformed in spots, but overall it remains as adventurous and as cagey as ever. MascisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ songwriting isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t as consistent or as confident as it will become, but the songsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ slippery structures and stoner melodies announce a distinct identity composed of unexpected musical contradictions. Mascis pounds his guitar like it was a drum kit (he had previously played drums in punk footnote Deep Wound), but he intuitively smooshes hardcore punk, heavy metal, psychedelic pop, and country rock into the same tight space. Amid the din, he sings in a hangdog voice that moves slowly and sustains notes slightly longer than normal, which twists the melodies into new and uncomfortable shapes.
As adventurous a guitarist as Mascis was, the tight rhythm section of Barlow and Murph allowed him to fire off every weapon in his arsenal. On 1987Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Living All Over Me — arguably the bandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s finest moment — Ã¢â‚¬Å“The LungÃ¢â‚¬? shapeshifts fluidly from post-hardcore restraint to R.E.M. jangle and back again, and thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s just the intro. But itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Murph, not Mascis, who leads the attack, with Barlow shouldering the heft. Beginning with the riotous Ã¢â‚¬Å“Little Fury ThingsÃ¢â‚¬? and ending with their notorious cover of the CureÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Ã¢â‚¬Å“Just Like HeavenÃ¢â‚¬? (with its notoriously abrupt ending), YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Living All Over Me airs the bandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s internal conflicts, specifically BarlowÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and MascisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ growing animosity toward each other. Ã¢â‚¬Å“IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m waiting/Please come back/I got the guts now/To meet your eye,Ã¢â‚¬? Mascis sings on the aptly titled Ã¢â‚¬Å“SludgeFeast,Ã¢â‚¬? presumably to the bass player. As a result of such open hostility, the songs are fraught with frighteningly palpable tension that still sounds raw and wiry nearly 20 years later.
That conflict eventually exploded, but not on record. Bug, the bandÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final album with its original line-up, seems set on proving that Dinosaur Jr. was more than just Mascis showboating. Instead of the rangy, guitar-centric jams of the previous albums, Bug contains MascisÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ most traditional and concise song structures. On the one hand, this approach produced Ã¢â‚¬Å“Freak Scene,Ã¢â‚¬? a late-Ã¢â‚¬â„¢80s alternative landmark and as good a reason as any band has given for staying together despite all the shit. On the other hand, the remaining songs largely lack the sense of adventure and surprise that amplifies Dinosaur and YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Living All Over Me.
That musical dynamic proved impossible to maintain given the volatile personal dynamics between Mascis and Barlow. Fed up, the bass player left the band and formed Sebadoh. Mascis and Murph recorded two more albums together before the drummer left, and Mascis recorded two more albums with a new line-up before Dinosaur Jr. became altogether extinct. Currently traveling the reunion-tour circuit, Mascis, Barlow, and Murph are playing their first shows together in over 15 years. TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve aged considerably since then, but these albums sound as fresh and as vital as ever.
— Stephen Deusner
Grades: Dinosaur: A-; YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re Living All Over Me: A; Bug: B+July 13, 2005 at 3:08 pm #108042
Bulbs, Bugs & Little Fury Things revisiting Dinosaur Jr
Born out of the ashes of the hardcore band Deep Wound, bandmates J. Mascis and Lou Barlow, with drummer Murph in tow, decided to try to take their music in a different direction. The resulting sound of their new band, was hard to pin down early on. The band’s sound was equal parts hardcore, metal, jam band, goth, and UK post punk, but what made this band stand out, and what would eventually become their calling card, was the lead guitar playing of Mascis.
You’re Living All Over Me ****
When considering which bands from the 1980s indie rock underground influenced the alt-rock explosion during the 1990s, many names spring to mind, but four American bands stick out above the rest: Husker Du, Sonic Youth, The Pixies, and Dinosaur Jr. Like The Pixies, Dinosaur Jr. hailed from Massachusetts (Amherst, to be specific), but it was the great Minneapolis trio Husker Du whom they most closely resembled. Both bands were trios who emerged from the early 80s hardcore punk scene, specializing in a sound that placed heavy emphasis on huge-sounding guitars, which translated into excruciatingly loud live performances. Most importantly, though, both Husker Du and Dinosaur Jr. excelled at underscoring all the noise with ingenious pop hooks that lurked underneath the din. As brilliant and well-loved as both bands were at the time, they turned out to be sadly ahead of their time, as that formula would not be fully appreciated until Nirvana’s ubiquitous three chords of "Smells Like Teen Spirit" dive-bombed into the collective consciousness of college students and school kids alike.
While Husker Du’s early albums for the SST label remain in desperate need of remastering, Dinosaur Jr.’s important first three albums, two of which were also on the SST label, have been given the reissue treatment by Merge Records. While it’s great news for the older crowd who remember hearing those albums on college radio, it’s an even better opportunity for a new generation of kids to get to know one of the most influential bands in the 1980s.
Born out of the ashes of the hardcore band Deep Wound, bandmates J. Mascis and Lou Barlow, with drummer Murph in tow, decided to try to take their music in a different direction. The resulting sound of their new band, dubbed Dinosaur (the "Jr." would be tacked on when the name conflicted with a bunch of West Coast folkies called The Dinosaurs), was hard to pin down early on. The band’s sound was equal parts hardcore, metal, jam band, goth, and UK post punk, but what made this band stand out, and what would eventually become their calling card, was the lead guitar playing of Mascis. At the time, guitar solos were usually reserved for the flashy, poofy-haired metal axemen, where the emphasis was on speed and technical ability, instead of emotion, but it was Mascis who masterfully put the emotion back into the guitar solo. One of the most expressive lead guitarists in the history of rock, Mascis drew heavily from the immense guitar sound of Neil Young, and did so brilliantly, his deft, yet economical licks speaking more loudly than his trademark laconic drawl.
Dinosaur Jr.’s self-titled 1985 debut, originally recorded for New York label Homestead (the early home of legends Sonic Youth and Big Black), is the sound of a band all over the stylistic map, as if tentatively dipping into as many genres as they can think of, but despite the often jarring lack of focus (check out the blatant metal rip-off on "Mountain Man"), Dinosaur is still loaded with gems, several of the seminal variety. At the top of the heap is the great single "Revulsion", which predates the Seattle grunge sound by a good four years, possessing the kind of sly pop sense that only Nirvana would be able to equal out in the Pacific Northwest. Alternating between fuzzed-out chords and jangly choruses, and between Mascis’s endearing slacker-dude vocals and his impassioned guitar fills, the song sets the template that Dinosaur Jr. would follow for the next decade. The lovely "Severed Lips" builds on that formula even further, serving as a bit of a preview of the more refined direction the band would head in as the 90s rolled around, but it’s the understated epic "Forget the Swan" that really sticks out, an overly ambitious blend of New Order style guitar and bass melodies, the impassioned lead vocals of Barlow, his extremely esoteric lyrics ("It’s foraging through the abyss/Under the brig, my head swings down"), and a surreal, loping bridge that features Mascis singing.
It’s 1987’s You’re Living All over Me, though, that has the band coming into their own. Widely regarded as one of the most influential albums of the post punk era, it is an unbelievably loud piece of work, but unlike their peers in Sonic Youth, who would take noise rock to lofty, arty heights on 1987’s Sister and the classic Daydream Nation a year later, Dinosaur Jr. injected a heavy dose of emotion and melody into the cacophony, and the result is still jarring today. The chief reason behind the album’s charming quality is Mascis, who is all over the album: his lyrics are desperate, often gutwrenching ("I’ll be grazing by your window, please come pat me on the head/I just wanna find out what you’re nice to me for"), but like a clumsy introvert, he struggles to find the right words, and when words fail, that’s where his guitar does the talking, to stunning effect. "Little Fury Things", "Tarpit", and "Raisans" boast the most memorable melodies, but the aptly titled "Sludgefeast" provides the most revelatory moment on the record, continuing where "Repulsion" left off a year earlier, marrying a sweet melody with turgid, brutally heavy, proto-grunge/stoner rock riffs and a very unconventional arrangement, concluding with a startling, very effective tempo change. Barlow’s presence was obviously being phased out during this period, but his influence is undeniable; not only does he contribute two quality songs in "Lose" and "Poledo", but his heavily distorted basslines, which were modeled directly after Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilminster, offset Mascis’s effects-laden guitars perfectly.
The following year, Bug would have Mascis settling into a groove he’d languish in during the mid-90s, that of comfy, listener-friendly tunes that, while never wavering from the loud, distorted tones of his guitar, would increasingly boast melodies that sound more folk rock than anything cutting-edge. While the influential You’re Living All over Me gets the majority of the praise, Bug is the superior album: Mascis’s songwriting is at its most nuanced and focused, the production is slightly cleaner, and the balance between noise and hooks is much more even, making for a much more accessible record. Songs such as "No Bones", "Let it Ride", and the lovely "Pond Song" all serve as perfect examples of the band’s streamlined sound, while the more ferocious "Yeah We Know" has the trio pulling off yet another one of their trademark, beastly riff showcases. Conversely, the emotional "The Post" packs a wallop with its sluggish, downtempo pace and Mascis’s country-tinged chorus of, "She’s my post to lean on/And I just cut her down."
It also helps that Bug has the greatest Dinosaur Jr. song of all time, that being the timeless indie rock anthem "Freak Scene", which skillfully dips into punk, metal, country, and pop with astonishing ease, and as always, is bolstered by yet another great guitar solo. The song’s sweet, lackadaisical quality, not to mention its endearing, puppydog-eyed lyrics ("Just don’t let me fuck up will you?/Cause when I need a friend it’s still you") would set the stage for the slacker sounds that would dominate indie rock during the first half of the 1990s.
By the time alternative rock was in full swing in 1994, Dinosaur Jr. managed to garner some of the attention they sought in the late 80s, but despite the airplay on 120 Minutes and Alternative Nation, the band was a shadow of its former self. After much internal strife, Barlow left the band after the release of Bug, and went on to form Sebadoh, whose 1991 album Sebadoh III would help pioneer the lo-fi rock trend that Pavement, Beck, Guided By Voices, and Neutral Milk Hotel would employ during that decade. Mascis, on the other hand, kept plugging away with Dinosaur Jr., putting out such solid, yet formulaic albums as Green Mind, Where You Been, and Without a Sound. Following The Pixies lead, however, Mascis, Murph, and Barlow have now mended fences, and are back touring, to the great delight of old fans in their thirties and forties.
All three re-releases, while claiming to be fully remastered, are only marginal improvements on the originals, and aside from one muddy live track and the lovably sloppy cover of The Cure’s "Just Like Heaven", the CDs are devoid of any bonus tracks. These neatly packaged discs, which contain well-written liner notes by Byron Coley and filmmaker Allison Anders, not to mention a tone of photos, are still a must, despite the complaints of some purists. Considering it’s been such a long time since these albums have been easily available, all three are well worth rediscovering, and new listeners might be surprised at how fresh and original this music still sounds nearly two decades later.
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