If you bet a sizable sum back in 2005 that Dinosaur Jr.’s improbable reunion would last longer than the band’s previous two eras combined and generate four new albums ranging from good to great, you’d have cashed in by now. But who would have taken such a gamble? Against steep odds, the Western Massachusetts noisemakers’ classic lineup has made more records in the 21st century than they did in the ’80s, and unlike Pixies, they’ve achieved a kind of lineup equilibrium that eluded them the first go-round. (Maybe time really does heal deep wounds—or maybe J Mascis and Lou Barlow just learned how to communicate after becoming dads, as drummer Murph mused in this SPIN profile surmised.) Even during the pandemic that interrupted the recording of the band’s fifth and latest post-reunion album, Sweep It Into Space, Dinosaur Jr. seemed compelled to play together in person, performing one of the earliest socially distanced rock shows at a farm in Connecticut.
That sense of effortless—if hard-won—chemistry permeates the new album. Partially recorded in fall 2019 with co-producer Kurt Vile, then completed by Mascis during last year’s quarantine, Sweep It Into Space bears little evidence of its protracted creation. It’s the breeziest and most melodically generous of the trio’s reunion efforts, even flirting with power-pop on the compulsively hummable “And Me.” The album brightens the punkish snarl of 2016’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not but rarely strays far from Dinosaur Jr.’s familiar guitar-forward racket, another testament to this band’s reliability well into their fourth decade.
Sweep It revs up like a used car with “I Ain’t,” a major-chord stomper in which Mascis starts ripping melodic solo licks even before the first chorus hits. The song’s main refrain, “I ain’t good alone” (easily misheard as “I ain’t gettin’ old”), evokes the simple yearning for musical companionship that has defined this band’s reunion. Mascis’ skill seems to have only grown during quarantine, which he spent playing Hindu peace chants in solidarity with healthcare workers and jamming along with the Schitt’s Creek theme song. His fiery solos remain piercing as ever, whether he’s wailing over the buzzsaw chords of “I Met the Stones” and “Hide Another Round” or injecting pyrotechnics into the brooding “To Be Waiting.”
The band departs from familiar territory when Vile asserts his presence behind the boards, like on the rolling country rock of “I Ran Away,” which features Vile’s 12-string accompaniment. The acoustic-electric mix of “And Me” is a nice change from the band’s usually implacable roar, but the jaunty “Take It Back” is the one most likely to raise eyebrows among longtime fans. The song is just a few trumpet overdubs away from ska, swapping out the usual Marshall stacks for a digital Mellotron and a Blue Beat-inspired rhythm, with a disjointed but still catchy chorus.
Otherwise, Sweep It Into Space is classic Dinosaur Jr., straight down to the division of labor: As on each of the band’s post-1997 albums, Barlow is allotted exactly two songs, a tradition so consistent you wonder if it’s baked into a contract. As usual, they’re wordier and more cerebral than Mascis’ contributions: a slightly mawkish song of devotion called “You Wonder,” a compelling English-folk pastiche called “Garden.”
The latter is a survival anthem, and takes its title from a sign Barlow spotted on a shed while driving through Massachusetts: Back to the Garden. “I was looking for a resolution,” Barlow explained. “Where do we go when faced with such dramatic confusion? Back to basics, back home, back to the garden.” It’s not just a song title; it’s also Dinosaur Jr.’s animating principle.
Buy: Rough Trade
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