I Bet On Sky continues the return to form of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph, who have made a distinguished set of songs that stick to the established Dinosaur Jr blueprint, the decision clearly made not to change a winning formula on this occasion. This is the 10th album in the history of the band, and while it’s an odd title – online betting unlikely to be their strongpoint – it does betray their more open sound these days.
The overall formula, however, remains straightforward, with each song often set out against a wall of sound, over which Mascis sings in that ever-familiar half sung, half murmured way of his that brings a curious intimacy to the listening experience. Then, as the song itself reaches a high point, the Mascis guitar usually adds its own distinctive commentary in the form of a piercing solo that reaches high and low before the song itself, now exhausted, collapses into a triumphant coda.
Thankfully, like all good artists, Dinosaur Jr keep enough flexibility so that few of their songs lapse in to a predictable outcome. One of their very strongest points is in Mascis’ ability to wring maximum emotion from his words, keeping the attention of the listener in his hand even when the coruscating guitars threaten to drown him. At the other end of the aural spectrum there is a poise that Barlow never loses in the course of this album, too.
Such poise is best illustrated by the band on the single Watch The Corners, with a strong chorus, a powerful hook and a particularly emphatic closing solo. What Was That provides a good blast of vintage Dinosaur, its opening guitar melody arcing upwards before the cobwebs are well and truly blown away by a massive wall of sound. Mascis remains relatively passive as a vocalist but the sense of deep thought is palpable as he muses on how “Someone said I should see you”. This more vulnerable nature is still more evident on Almost Fare, where in a tender voice he muses, “You tell me where to go, shall I meet you? I don’t know”.
This mixture of grace, power and vulnerability will melt many a rock lover’s heart, confirming to established fans that Dinosaur Jr are still on form, while keeping the potential to win over new listeners with their brand of melodic rock that speaks squarely from the heart, with little to no pretence to be found even in the most extended of axe solos. The band’s formula is nowhere near broke, and while this tenth album might not necessarily expand on that greatly, it doesn’t mean that anything about the band’s music is in need of fixing.