Sweep It Into Space? Ahhh… after the year we’ve all had, it sounds like a fine idea. Turns out Dinosaur Jr are on hand to offer plenty of sweet aural relief in the form of their latest, and 12th, long player. Given they were birthed out of Massachusetts’ hardcore punk scene in the early ‘80s, not to mention their sometimes fractious history, one might not readily associate the three-piece as a sonic comfort blanket. But if a pandemic will teach you anything, it’s that you can’t foresee shit.
From the opening fuzzy bars of I Ain’t, the dramatic and doomy twists and turns of the global news cycle fade away, replaced by the mildly self-critical musings of one J Mascis and the warm comfort they bring. That instantly recognisable guitar tone paired with Lou Barlow’s loose, fast bass style and Murph’s no messin’ stomp is loaded with the individual muscle memory of every Dinosaur Jr fan the world over. No, these three middle-aged men have not come forth with a reinvention of the wheel, yet they do offer a potent balm for frayed nerves.
Fellow mop-haired noodler Kurt Vile was enlisted for co-producer duties and 12 string contributions to the gingerly countrified and pleasingly sanguine I Ran Away. Kurt Vile feels like the perfect foil for the haphazard, yet deceptively crafted, songs of Dinosaur Jr. This sense is satisfied with the way Vile’s lively and lithe guitar work dances around Mascis’ tender vocal.
Largely, the album tends towards the gentler end of Dinosaur Jr’s sensibilities and, in this instance, that’s no bad thing. Take It Back errs as close to cutesy as is permissible, or decent, from such a band and is all the more surprisingly successful for it. In contrast, the more down-tuned and heartsore To Be Waiting suffers from an overly-familiar melody, whereas the more energetic And Me feels more genuinely spirited.
For those that demand some legitimate head banging moments from the alt-rock heroes, I Expect It Always offers some classic Mascis riffage and N Say is fuelled by a more urgent rhythm than much of what the record offers. That said, it’s always surprising how heavy Dinosaur Jr can make even some of their gentler songs in a live setting, albeit with the help of a lot of ampage. And those stateside have the opportunity to witness the new record in all its glory as the band take it on the road for a not-out-of-the-woods-yet Covid tour.
As has become best practice for the band, there are two Barlow-led numbers on the record. And in line with that tradition, they match some of the best on the record, not least in offering a palate-cleansing interlude. Garden is surely one of Barlow’s best contributions to date, furnished with a gently soaring melody and the kind of subtlety that really gets under your skin, proving he is the equal of his bandmate. It is also Barlow that concludes the album with You Wonder and its hopeful missive,”Go History / go let me shine a light the dark corner of our yesterday / let me get it right”.
Is this Dinosaur Jr at their most reliable? Quite possibly. At their most thrilling? Probably not. But we need something to depend on this year and Dinosaur Jr don’t disappoint. Sweep It Into Space is as solid a selection of songs as they’ve ever produced and broadly typifies why they are so beloved. It’s been a rough year, treat yourself and escape plague island momentarily for some well-needed respite.