Styles: classic rock, stoner pop, “alternative”
Others: Sonic Youth, Teenage Fanclub, Lemonheads
Of all the bands pushing the “comeback rock” tag, few have done it with as much zest and vigor as Dinosaur Jr. 2007’s Beyond, recorded with the legendary original lineup of J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph, proved that the reunion was no mere cash-grab, unlike the suspect work of other alternative, punk, and new wave nostalgia peddlers. The album was as fierce and torn as anything the band has done. Farm, the group’s new record and first for indie label Jagjaguwar, further testifies to both the band’s staying power and their reinvigorated sense of purpose. It helps that the members of Dinosaur Jr. hadn’t been taking it easy after the original lineup’s dissolution -- Mascis helmed varying incarnations under the Dinosaur banner through their major label years and played metal and scuzz-punk with his buddies in Witch and from The Stooges; Barlow achieved lo-fi glory with Sebadoh and Folk Implosion; and Murph spent time with Lemonheads, honing his impressive chops.
Farm finds Dinosaur Jr. tending to a more subdued set than Beyond, perhaps suggesting that, at this point, the band has nothing to prove. The songs benefit from the more defined approach. Not that there’s anything less epic about the record; each jam seems more monstrous than the last, conjuring up the idea of Tony Iommi playing Shoot Out the Lights, with sly combinations of country chicken picking and sludgy riffs, stoner metal and major key power-pop, and some of the most delirious solos Mascis has put to tape yet. And there are the joyful little quirks, too: the wah-wah blasts at the start of “Over It,” the whammy bar abuse of “Said the People,” the fuzzy rumble of Barlow’s bass in “Your Weather,” and Murph’s endearingly massive drum fills, like the ones that open the record with “Pieces.”
While Mascis’ signature drawl and ethereal falsetto secured that he’d never be accused of macho-posturing (as well as nagging Neil Young comparisons), Farm finds him sounding more vulnerable and romantic than ever; it’s like J. has been taking pages from Barlow’s post-Dino handbook. "Got tons of fear, what else should I bring," Mascis sings in “Oceans in the Way,” adding, "There’s a panic I can’t describe/ I need that something I see in your eyes." In “I Want You to Know” he pines: "Stay with me/ Tell me if it shows." The heart-swells aren’t strictly romantic; it’s hard not to read “Friends” and “Over It” as love letters to the members of Dinosaur Jr. as well, years of acrimony melting away as the band bashes out worn in chords -- Mascis sings "I need to believe."
Lou contributes two songs to the record: modern-rocker “Your Weather” and album closer “Imagination Blind.” The former finds him singing over a jerky, robot rock riff, recalling Queens of the Stone Age at their most radio-ready. It’s the record's most lackluster moment, yet still manages to add a nice dose of paranoia to the proceedings, its tight vocal melody never falling quite into sync with the taut rhythm to create an intriguing tension -- though, it still sounds a lot like the Foo Fighters. The latter is altogether more successful. A big-bottomed rocker, “Imagination Blind” simultaneously sounds like it could have come from any rock album recorded after 1986, yet comes off wholly and uniquely like Dinosaur Jr. It’s a credit to the essential appeal of Dinosaur’s original lineup; Lou’s vocals soar like Mascis' can’t, leaving the latter to conjure up the shortest and most restrained guitar solo on an album full of guitar solos. In the few bars he’s alloted, Mascis signs his sonic signature to remarkable effect, while Murph does what he does no matter who writes the songs: he pounds the hell out of the drums.
It sounds dismissive to say that Farm is, undeniably, nothing more than another Dinosaur Jr. record. Yet it is, and if that assertion carries with any ideas of complacency or stock “rock action,” it should also denote the superb craftsmenship inherent in Mascis, Barlow, and Murph’s work. Dinosaur’s dedication to classic rock histrionics, hardcore’s ideals, and metal’s righteous bone-headedness assured that they never fit into the grunge and alternative market template, and the same applies to the indie-rock scene they now curiously inhabit. But Dinosaur Jr. has always seemed too bruised to be bothered. Farm suggests that they’ll most likely be around in another 20 years, as battered and as raggedly glorious as ever.
2. I Want You to Know
3. Ocean in the Way
5. Your Weather
6. Over It
8. Said the People
9. There’s No Here
10. See You
11. I Don’t Wanna Go There
12. Imagination Blind