Today, everydaymusic gives you Curtis Filaroski writing about Dinosaur Jr.’s latest album Farm. In addition, here‘s a bunch of Dinosaur Jr songs you can listen to and download for free, only at SadSteve. (Just found this cover of “Just Like Heaven”)
For my first review with this website, I’m going to review the new record by one of my favorite aging rock bands, Dinosaur Jr. Dinosaur Jr. is most well known for their first string of three classic to semi-classic noise rock/proto-grunge albums back in the ’80s, peaking with 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me. After third album Bug, bassist Lou Barlow left for greener pastures to form bands The Folk Implosion and the amazing lo-fi act Sebadoh (among others), and Dinosaur Jr. went on, with mediocre results, until 1997, a few years after the departure of original drummer Murph. In 2007, the original lineup reformed to create the great Beyond and are back once again (with singer and guitarist J Mascis looking older than ever, see here) for 2009’s Farm.
As always, to hear some of their new (and old) music, visit their Myspace page
but as a special treat you can always just ask me for the CD as well. Just don’t tell anyone.
In the vein of “Freak Scene” that opens up 1988’s Bug, this one’s a straight up rocker and, like the aforementioned song, it’s a perfect opener and kicks a ton of ass. What surprises me most about the track is how well J Mascis’ voice sounds. A lot of people were turned off by Dinosaur Jr. because of his whining vocals on the older albums. Even on Beyond his vocals still had the effect to turn some off, but on “Pieces,” and indeed throughout all of Farm, he sounds much more mature without sacrificing any of the genuine emotion that came with his previous vocals. Maybe it’s just me, but it sounds like he’s grown up, but in a good way (not in the Stones 1990s reformation kind of way, ugh). Anyway, the other elements of the song are great as well, including the lyrics, which also match this more mature feel, and the killer guitar solo, which doesn’t portray any sense of wankery but still manages to impress. Another surprisingly (remember, they’re more than 20 years removed from their masterwork) great start to an “old man” Dinosaur Jr. album.
I Want You To Know
Okay, I’m just going to stop using the word “surprising” if all of the songs are going to be this good. Another pretty “straight” (for them) rocker, but boy are they getting a lot of noise out of just three instruments. This song has a much more “full” sound than the previous song, something that’s especially apparent when listening on headphones, and a touch of fuzzy pop sensibility. A few marks off for sounding a little like the previous song (pseudo-love lyrics, rocker, guitar solo) but I’m really digging the layers of sound.
Ocean in the Way
I hate to sound corny, but the slow pace of this song really works due to the fact it (wait for it) feels like the ebb and flow of an ocean. It matches the song perfectly. And certainly after the first two blistering songs, this song is well placed; a beautiful, slow-paced ballad. Now don’t get me wrong: this is not a ballad in the vein of the Beatles or anything. The noise is still kept at a high level, but they slow it down and even add in a softer interlude where the previous songs would chug along. The solo during this interlude is also the best of the bunch up to this point, piercing through the silence and delivering a knockout punch.
Now we get to the first of the three “monsters” on the album, the centerpieces of Farm that top six minutes and really represent the album as a whole. “Plans” is the shortest of the bunch, ending after only 6:42, but also may be the best of the three because it perfectly showcases Dinosaur Jr’s melodic tendencies. This one really plays more like a pop song than any of the other songs. It also shows amazing stamina despite no tempo or melody changes throughout, showing that Mascis and Co. aren’t afraid to let their songs come to their logical conclusion, even if it may take 7 minutes. And again they do it without wankery! We need more bands like this!
From one of the monsters to the shortest song on the album, the first of two Barlow compositions. Now, normally, I’m a huge fan of Lou Barlow. Sebadoh is one of my favorite ’90s bands and Dinosaur Jr. really fell off back when he originally left, but this song isn’t too hot. Maybe it’s just that the first four set a mood, but Barlow’s vocals combined with a sub-par (and unnecessarily opaque) melody make this sound…well, out of place. The lyrics are on point, and they certainly play it as well as could be played, but it’s just not that great of a song. Oddly enough, it sounds like a post-Bug composition. Go figure.
Ah, distorted guitar! The highlight of early albums, along with solid melody and heavy sound, was, above all, the glorious guitar distortion. Unlike indie brethren Sonic Youth or, say, Jesus and Mary Chain, the Dinosaur Jr. variety of distortion isn’t just simple earsplitting feedback (though, admittedly, I fucking love that) but cool wah-wah and delay sounds. Granted, I may be getting a little ahead of myself: the distortion only appears clearly at the beginning and end and pops up subtly throughout, it makes me infinitely happy to hear such noises augment the sound of an already fantastic song. And, oh yeah, the song. This one moves along quicker than the previous three tracks, even topping the first two in terms of sheer speed, but lacks a little bit of punch when it comes to overall body. The distortion really helps this song in that respect, fleshing out the song into another above average number.
This song is just a little bit annoying. Finally, at the onset of the second side, we get to hear a sludgy, Sabbath-influenced riff, but this contrasted (and not well) with an upbeat melody. Now, my complaint might be a little unfair, as the melodies throughout the album have been upbeat and this song continues on the trend set by the album, yet something feels a little odd about this song. The heavy feel just does not compliment itself well to the sound. The guitar solo is among the best on the album though, just a very uninteresting track.
Said the People
The second of the monster songs, this one more ballad-like (though I hesitate to call any Dinosaur Jr. song a ballad, despite “Ocean in the Way”) and another example of their ability to create something beautiful out of a lot of noise. Sort of like the ugly-is-beautiful aesthetic of My Bloody Valentine, but let’s not think that extreme. Anyway, like the last longer song, this one also manages to let the song come to it’s proper conclusion, not lasting overly long, but allowing the listener to feel fully fulfilled. Another stellar song.
There’s No Here
This one kicks you in the balls almost immediately, showing a little bit of hardcore influence and maybe some glam? I don’t know, the opening guitar makes me think of something like that, but maybe I’m completely off. Anyway, I’m not a big fan of double tracked vocals, and Mascis kind of sounds like he’s trying for something that isn’t there, but aside from the vocals, this song is a killer. The guitar sounds especially good in this one.
This one’s close to monster status, just barely missing the mark at 5:48, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good song. In fact, aside from the next song, this may be the best of the last half of the album, starting off a killer ending run. Taking a very 1993 Built to Spill-ish melody throughout and building upon it in typical (not meant negatively) fashion, what really stands out is, once again, some stellar guitar work. In fact, let’s just leave that unsaid from now on because that seems to be a theme throughout. Mascis knows his axe. Surprisingly, though, the song keep a quiet sound throughout, making it the most obviously “indie” song on the whole album. Great ending too.
I Don’t Wanna Go There
And now we get to what I consider the centerpiece of the album, the 8:43 mammoth that pretty much encapsulates the whole sound and theme of the album into one long, dense song. As well as great melodies and stellar guitar work, we get some great lyrics from Mascis (which, if I haven’t mentioned it yet, is pretty typical throughout the album) and that thick, multi-layered Wall of Sound that characterizes this album. What I like most about this song, though, is that, like long classics in the same vein such as Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” or the Rolling Stones “Going Home,” this song never enters into boring jam territory, opting rather to building upon the melody and stopping when the song should end. Every solo, every verse, and every tempo change (I think I heard a few) seems necessary. Probably the best Dinosaur Jr. song I’ve heard since Bug‘s “Don’t” and, considering Beyond and a handful of good 90’s songs, that’s saying something.
The final song on the album, following the stellar previous song, represents Lou Barlow’s second song on the album and also a vast improvement over his previous entry, providing a suitable conclusion to a great album. This one is unlike anything on the rest of Farm, but after the previous song it’d be foolish to recreate and encapsulate the sound of the album as a whole, so Barlow opts for an indie-sounding, Sebadoh-esque rocker. I appreciate the distortion and the (this time successful) opaque melody, but as I said previously, I do have a problem with double-tracked vocals, and it hinders the song a little on this one. Never the less, I feel like this is a very suitable ending piece, so it gets points for being where it is.
Now for a little discussion on how I feel about the album as a whole. Firstly, I have to say I was surprised with the overall sound of the album. Only one song extensively featured the distortion that Dinosaur Jr. was known for in the past, but I suppose that is typical for the Dinosaur Jr. of this (and last) decade. Still, I think of songs like “Don’t” and “Little Fury Things,” among others, and do long for a little bit of that beautiful distortion to spice up the songs a little. Indeed, a lot of the songs suffer a bit from a lack of “oomph” that such a sound would be. And I guess that goes into my main gripe with the album: the sound of the “album” as a whole often overwhelms the songs. What I mean by that is, in short, the songs can sound very similar to one another.
Then again, I’m forced to look at the musical landscape that we inhabit now. Compared to a lot of other acts, these guys sound like fucking Mozart and have the variety of Guided by Voices. And, to my admission, the similarity gripe is largely nitpicking. All bands have a “sound” and the only reason “older” Dinosaur Jr. sounded so diverse was because there’s so much variety in distortion. I’m not trying to be harsh, either. Each song does have a distinct sound to it, but, as you can tell by some repetition in word usage for the individual song reviews, the “overall sound” prevails throughout. Not that I can’t tell one song from another, because I can. Hell, I’ll stop explaining myself…
…because the overall point I want you to get, in the end, is listen to this album. I fucking love it. I love noisy albums and I love Dinosaur Jr. My gut reaction is to give this one a 8 out of 10, but I’m gonna crank it up and give it a low 8.5 out of 10 because my personal enjoyment is so high. Almost every song stands strong on its own and, as an album, it has amazing cohesion and structure.
So a 4.25/5.
Favorite Songs: “Ocean in the Way,” “Plans,” “I Don’t Wanna Go There”
Avoid: “Your Weather”