DINOSAUR JR. - I BET ON SKY
There is nothing quite like a Dinosaur Jr. album. The best ones are always recognizable from the first notes. And even though J tries to trip us up by smearing “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” with keyboards, it’s clear from the moment he starts his vocals that this is the one and only Dinosaur Jr., long reigning kings of Amherst, Massachusetts (and anywhere else they choose to hang their toques).
I Bet on Sky is the third Dinosaur Jr. album since the original trio – J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph – reformed in 2005. And, crazily, it marks the band’s 10th studio album since their debut on Homestead Records in 1985. Back in the ‘80s, if anyone has suggested that these guys would be performing and recording at such a high level 27 years later, they would have been laughed out of the tree fort. The trio’s early shows were so full of sonic chaos, such a weird blend of aggression and catatonia that we all assumed they would flame out fast. But the joke was on us.
The trio has taken everything they’ve learned from the various projects they tackled over the years, and poured it directly into their current mix. J’s guitar approaches some of its most unhinged playing here, but there’s a sense of instrumental control that matches the sweet murk of his vocals (not that he always remembers to exercise control on stage, but that’s another milieu). This is head-bobbing riff-romance at the apex. Lou’s basswork shows a lot more melodicism now as well, although his two songs on I Bet on Sky retain the jagged rhythmic edge that has so often marked his work. And Murph…well, he still pounds the drums as hard and as strong as a pro wrestler, with deceptively simple structures that manage to interweave themselves perfectly with his bandmates’ melodic explosions.
After submerging myself in I Bet on Sky, it’s clear that the album is a true and worthy addition to the Dinosaur Jr. discography. It hews close enough to rock formalism to please the squares. Yet it is brilliantly imprinted with the trio’s magical equation, which is a gift to the rest of us. For a combo that began as anomalous fusion of hardcore punk and pop influences, Dinosaur Jr. have proven themselves to be unlikely masters of the long game. Their new album is a triumph of both form and function. And it augurs well for their future trajectory. If I were prone to wagering, I’d say their best days are yet ahead of them. And yeah. I would bet the sky on it.
Dinosaur Jr. is now widely recognized as one of the most significant American rock bands of all time; the sound they pioneered in the late-80s having permeated through the past 20 years. Preceding Nirvana by several years, they were instrumental in bringing the crashing sounds of lead guitar back to indie rock. It wasn't just their signature metallic haze that made an impression on listeners; their effects-laden guitars were wrapped around some of the best songwriting of the decade. The first three albums -- Dinosaur, You're Living All Over Me and Bug -- were cult masterpieces and when the original line up of Mascis, Barlow and drummer Murph re-formed in 2005 for select live dates it was apparent that the years apart had not eroded any of their vitality. In fact, many critics claimed their shows were even better than they used to be. It was natural, then, that the band would begin to work on new material.
With the release of Beyond in 2007, the band gave a hearty Marshall-driven "F**K YOU!" answer to any skeptics of the reformation. Restoring the sound established by the opening hat-trick gambit of Dinosaur, You're Living All Over Me, and Bug, the Beyond record continued the band's march into rock greatness by making old ears smile and new ears bleed afresh. And now there is Farm, Dinosaur Jr.'s first double LP and their fifth full length record by the original line-up -- J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph -- released on their new label home Jagjaguwar.
If Beyond was Dinosaur Jr.'s return to form, Farm is proof that this band continues to deliver that which makes rock worth cranking to 11. At times wholly 70's guitar-epic, at times perfect for sitting by a babbling brook with Joni and Neil, Farm encompasses Dinosaur Jr.'s signature palette - soaring and distorted guitar, unshakable hooks, honey-rich melodies - songs that get into your head and, bouncing around happily, stay there. The ear-catching "Plans" is nearly 7 minutes of classic whipped-topping rock dessert, while "I Don't Wanna Go There" is a meat-and-potatoes main dish, mixing unapologetic lead guitar with straight-ahead delivery a la James Gang or Humble Pie. These two tunes round out twelve tracks propelled by the unique energy of one of America's greatest living rock bands hitting their stride.