Dinosaur Jr. are returning to the airwaves with a gleaming new album. From the very first crunchy guitar riff, it’s evident the band have maintained their remarkably individual sound despite a slightly tumultuous career so far — in which they weathered a multitude of lineup shuffles, label changes and various eras of musical direction. With the most recent of their ‘eras’ beginning with their reformation in 2005, the lineup now comprises frontman J Mascis, bassist/vocalist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph. Since their rekindling, the trio reissued their first three albums and released four new ones, with a fifth taking the form of the upcoming ‘Sweep It Into Space’.
The first release since 2016’s ‘Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not’, Dinosaur Jr. serve up a record that is undeniably them. Co-produced by Kurt Vile, their guitar-driven elegance and signature angsty tinge are harnessed and sharpened.
‘I Ain’t’, is a fierce opener with its catchy, twangy strumming and soaring lead lines throughout. Anchored by the gorgeously gritty vocal fry of Mascis, it’s a solidly fun track with a slightly gloomy undertone. Next up is classic rock-fuelled ‘I Met The Stones’ where the tone becomes nostalgic among a bustling instrumental. Hints of falsetto backing vocals peep through the organised chaos; brilliantly balanced by Vile’s production.
Where ‘To Be Waiting’ and ‘I Ran Away’ may give a sense of slightly changed direction in the album (with a vibe that could easily be plucked from an American high school movie), the band’s signature grit persists through. Core features like their howling solos; overdriven riffs, and Murph’s authoritative drumming retain the sound we know and love. ‘I Ran Away’ also features the skillful 12-string touch from Vile. With recording plans somewhat ambushed by the pandemic, Mascis bounded in to mimic Vile’s upbeat licks for a Thin Lizzy-inspired duel lead.
‘Garden’, written and performed by Barlow, holds a stylish magnetism. While somewhat subdued compared to its neighbours on the record, it’s a sturdy and powerful ballad with driving percussion. The grungy prowess that dwells in many Dinosaur Jr. tracks returns with ‘Hide Another Round’ and ‘And Me’; the latter of which contains one of the greatest guitar solos to happen so far. This is until ‘I Expect It Always’ somehow ups the ante with truly masterful playing in the song’s pinnacle moments.
A fun twist happens with the addition of ‘Take It Back’ — a much sunnier and bouncier track showcasing the results of the band’s experimentation with a mini digital Mellotron. As will have been noticed by fans of the trio, a slight country-rock flair is present in many of their previous works, and that holds true particularly in ‘N Say’ where the vocal is crackly and articulation strays slightly from what you might expect of a Massachusset’s native. Slamming guitar and drum-fill-excellence satisfy the rest of the track.
The lure of ‘Walking To You’ stems from its sentimental melodies, cascaded over smooth bass. It nicely changes the pace before winding down to the dark and nifty ‘You Wonder’. The vocal efforts here are minimal but moving, which serve as a perfect close to ‘Sweep It Into Space’.
This is a dense but dynamic album, with bitey guitar and exuberant soloing keep it exciting. Dinosaur Jr. have comfortably dwelled between a myriad of genres over the years, and this serves the present record well with its delicate hints of classic rock, grunge and noise rock in its making. A solidly thrilling album, ‘Sweep It Into Space’ is out April 23rd on Jagjaguwar.