The sound of a guitar being plugged in.
A chugging but energised riff in that familiar guitar tone.
The first few seconds of Dinosaur Jr’s latest album might only be a brief glimpse, but they tell you almost everything you need to know. That live sound has always been a part of what makes the band sound so immediate, resonant, and vital, and this album sounds as if it’s been played in one take, with Lou Barlow, J Mascis and Murph locked in tight. There’s something about Dinosaur Jr that, after 30 years, has become remarkably comforting. It’s not that the band has softened over time; J’s lyrics are still angst-ridden and his solos and guitar tone are capable of delivering a sizeable jolt. It’s fair to say there’s not too many surprises with a new Dinosaur Jr album. The comfort comes, not just from familiarity, but the idea that a band can fall apart and somehow got back together to make records every bit as exciting as their early work. Dinosaur Jr embody the concept that being in a band is primarily about playing awesome songs with your friends.
Having recorded three albums (including the hugely influential You’re Living All Over Me and Bug), the original incarnation of Dinosaur Jr fell apart in 1989 when the tension between Mascis and Barlow reached breaking point. When the original line up reunited in 2005, culminating in the release of Beyond in 2007, there was plenty of speculation about whether the band could possibly survive in light of what had happened the first time around; but here we are four albums and 10 years later and the band are still together, still writing, and still sounding vital. The later albums might not be as raw as anything the youthful trio put out (although Farm carried a few tunes that channeled the spirit of the band’s early days) but they’re wiser, better produced and more finely crafted than those well-loved earlier records. The trio have honed their craft admirably, and on Give A Glimpse, they’ve condensed their history into a tight, but naturally slack, set of songs. They’re ambling toward the horizon, acknowledging the past, but not drawing on it too heavily.
The band’s habit of never straying too far from the blueprint means that long term fans will find elements of the band’s career scattered throughout Glimpse. There’s the pop-swing fuzz of Tiny, an infectious and gloriously sunny number that’s up there with the drive of Freak Scene. The stoner grind of I Walk For Miles combines Black Sabbath and the band’s own Sludgefeast, whilst Goin’ Down thunders along like The Wagon on a cobbled street. I Told Everyone and Be A Part are more subtle, relying on melody and emotion rather than layering on the bombast, and call to mind the band’s first post-Barlow album Green Mind. In fact, most of the album finds Mascis and co in introspective but not ripping form. There’s still those searing guitar solos naturally, but the likes of Lost All Day, Knocked Around and Mirror favour a more delicate approach, and it’s one that fits the band perfectly at the moment.
Perhaps the most interesting moments come in the form of Barlow’s two contributions. Love Is… channels ’60s psychedelic folk, calling to mind Jefferson Airplane’s Somebody To Love. Left/Right’s easy plodding amble relies heavily on Barlow’s sweet vocal lines, as Mascis’ guitar parts seem almost marginalised for just a moment. On first listen they feel a little jarring and out of step with Mascis’ songs, but given time, they flourish and provide a kind of stoned summery shimmer to the album. Most importantly, Barlow’s songs are now becoming a part of the band’s canon and Dinosaur Jr are more than simply a sum of its parts as a result. The tension that gave those early albums their fizzing energy may no longer be there, but in its place is a band operating at a far higher level. Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is almost certainly the best album the reformed Dinosaur Jr have made so far.