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    J. Mascis going the way of the Dinosaurs?
    by fm_hunter | May 10 ’00

    Pros: Virtuoso guitar work, catchy hooks, original sounding
    Cons: Apathetic vocals, similar song structures get tiresome
    Recommended: Yes

    If there was a musical category for riff-heavy, generation X’ish, disassociated slacker rock, then Dinosaur Jr would be at the head of the line. Dinosaur Jr was definitely the product of the alternative music explosion of the 80’s, but their music was more of a reaction to the fluffier pop that reigned during the era.

    Dinosaur Jr is very much a guitar oriented band, in fact, the main guitar player, J. Mascis, also happens to be the lead singer and is largely responsible for the construction of each song. He arranges the guitars, the bass, and even the drum tracks and quite often he plays each part separately in the studio, then overlays the tracks for the finished product. Needless to say, the other members of Dinosaur Jr have been anything but static, and he often employs various studio musicians when he plays live.

    I’ve both read and heard that Mascis can be quite difficult to get along with when it comes to his music. I guess it’s his way or the highway, and I’ve seen some of his band mates hit the highway, in mid concert (the bass player threw his guitar down in disgust and stormed off stage when I saw Dinosaur Jr at Lolapolooza!) Perhaps Mascis is a bit peculiar, but this may just lend itself to the fact that he is a tremendously skilled musician who can write a very catchy song.

    Dinosaur Jr’s 1993 release of ‘Where You Been’ is almost as enigmatic as the man behind the band. Some songs I sit in awe of his abilities, and others I wonder what the heck he was thinking. First, let me address the first thing one will notice when listening to Macsis – his vocals. Mascis has the Neil Young or Bob Dylan syndrome; He’s an accomplished musician, but his voice isn’t the cat’s meow. He delivers his lyrics with about as much verve as that teacher Ben Stein played on ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’ (Anyone? Anyone?) I’ve become accustomed to his delivery, but to many people it’s just something they can’t quite get around.

    Mascis’ handling of the guitar more than makes up for his vocal shortcomings however. From the opening riffs of track 1, ‘Out There’, you sense that this guy can play some serious licks. Strangely contrary to his vocals, the guitars on this CD lack nothing in intensity. Throughout most of his songs, you will discover two or three distinct guitar movements, expertly displaying his capacity to manipulate the axe.

    Even with the overwhelming guitar arrangements, they can’t save every song on ‘Where You Been’. Many of the songs feel like they drag on a minute or so longer than they should. Perhaps resulting from the numerous guitar solos, but this structure begins to wear thin after listening to half of the CD. Another problem is Mascis’ frequent use of his screechy falsetto, which he seems to include in every song. His voice is questionable enough and he doesn’t need to try and sound like one of the Bee Gees.

    I may sound like I’m not a big fan of Dinosaur Jr, but on the contrary, I really do enjoy his music. And not to be focusing on the negatives, there are a few gems to be found on this CD. Track 3, ”What Else is New’ is an incredible track showing off Mascis’ ability to juxtapose an electric and acoustic guitar. His pitiable voice seems to play right into the words of this song, as he sings to a disinterested girlfriend. The song finishes with Mascis appealing to her, as a dramatic bass drum and a string arrangement accent his pleas.

    Track 5, ‘Not the Same’ is another slower track that seems to play to Mascis’ vocal limitations. This song once again exhibits the theatrical beats of a bass drum while Mascis slowly plays a soothing rhythm of acoustic guitar. The vocals are eerily Neil Young-esque in this ballad, as Mascis displays his most controlled whispered falsetto.

    It seems I am just drawn to the more deliberate tracks on this CD, even though Mascis can certainly rock out with the best of them. His more controlled tracks seem to flow much smoother than his sharp edged aggressive tunes. The intermediary paced track 6, ‘Get Me’, boasts some of the finest guitar work I’ve ever heard from Mascis. He really lets loose on both solos, funneling his passion into his instrument to such an extent that you can honestly sense his obsession with the guitar.

    If you are a fan of guitar oriented alternative rock, I would definitely recommend Dinosaur Jr to you. Although ‘Where You Been’ is a respectable CD, they do have stronger material out there. Their most distinguished work to date without hesitation would be ‘Green Mind’, and many of their older releases like ‘Bug’ are worth checking out. If Macsis had ever found someone to provide sharper vocals I feel Dinosaur Jr would be a household name by now.

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