Dinosaur Jr. Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not

[Jagjaguwar; 2016]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: pop, hard rock, punk, indie, can’t-you-see-me-standing-here-i’ve-got-my-back-against-the-record-machine
Others: Built To Spill, Chavez, Marked Men, Sheer Mag, Bob Mould

Blessedly, in the course of a life, there remains an element of stupefaction to obliviously trudge into like an errant snow drift. That same dumb reaction that people give witnessing a magic trick applies to ostensibly more sophisticated entertainment. Since the genre signifiers have begun to carry the editorial funk of a leaky thrift store basement, we are left to gawp at guitar solos more wild and rich than they have any right to be in songs so bubblegum brite. J Mascis casts us all as mouth breathers with his impossibly honed technical and expressive musicianship. While his tuning preferences may be less than appropriate, what he does with an electric guitar and a stack of amplifiers shows that Mad Max: Fury Road guitarist for the nu metal hack that he was. J embarrasses you by making you cry during a song that sounded like agreeable yet boilerplate pop punk a second ago. It’s a dumbfounding good place to be.

Four albums into this new/old phase of Dinosaur Jr. and they’ve made an album so imperceptibly sharper in its craft as to incline one to revisit its predecessors. But there is not a thing wrong with these albums. This original lineup reunion has not conformed to their earlier, more lo-fi hardcore sound, but the melodically sound songwriting of J (sour-sweet) and Lou (sweet-sour) have proven to be stronger together. Everything that’s endured about 90s standouts Where You Been? and Without a Sound is intact and improved upon with Lou Barlow’s lyrically infectious bass lines. His songs continue to be highlights as well, be it the wilted CSN-style folk rock of “Love Is…” or the more Sebadoh-tinged emo jangle of the closing track.

But everyone comes off decidedly poised this time around. Hard to say if it’s the recording or his playing, but Murph sounds ever ready to insist these 11 songs into your bones. Everyone sounds hungry and exultant. But it’s always been there in the material, some of it so great it inspires one to go a’shredding on a snowy mountain top. It’s just that they’ve tightened up tighter. Perhaps it’s because, contrary to nostalgia loyalists, there’s still an absurd amount of solid rock & roll competition out there. They left us in a solid place with 2012’s I Bet On Sky, but it had nothing on the speed-bag snap-and-roll assuredness that they’ve brought us four years later. From the no-Foo Fighters, this-is-how-you-do-that opener on down, Give a Glimpse is the lighten-up, get tough, kick in the pants we all too often need in our lives. It’s easy to envision a resurgence of jumping on beds and air guitaring with hooks this muscular and pleasingly concise flying around.

Initially, this album is akin to when you first put on Let’s Go or Dookie and found yourself catching and sorting the embarrassment of raw pop riches in your head. “Be a Part” even calls to a glad and sorry, scrappy monster ballad sort of mood. But the hair band/pop-punk formulas these three trade in are finessed to the point of revitalization. There’s no trace of irreverence, but it’s not sanctimonious either. It’s a great irony that the band we call Dinosaur Jr. are probably the best case being made for the lingering fallback position of guitar godhead deference. Musicians past their prime don’t write showstopping planet mulchers like “I Walk For Miles” or impossibly lovely aching laments like “Knocked Around”. They don’t release albums that fill you with sunshine and swamp scum alike and leave you wanting more.

In 2016, “long live rock” is way too sweeping, among other things. So long live this. It’s just about right.

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