ALBUM REVIEW: Dinosaur Jr. | I Bet On Sky

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by Chris Familton

square-600-15Star Rating DS 4Of the recent spate of reunions, Dinosaur Jr’s was one of the most unlikely, but over three albums it’s proven to be one of the most successful. From the cyclical soloing and piano on opener Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know to the sleepy sway of Stick A Toe In and the rapid-fire riffs of Pierce The Morning Rain, the quota of simple ideas executed with energy and creativity is ridiculously high, making the album a thrilling listen from top to bottom.

I Bet On Sky continues the trend of featuring the songs of J Mascis with a couple of Lou Barlow gems added to the mix. Barlow as usual brings a thrashy pop briskness to his songs, in particular Recognition with its serrated, choppy rhythms. There are also signs of the trio stretching out with the funk rock of I Know It Oh So Well, which sounds much better than it does on paper. Dinosaur Jr. have survived by eschewing grand evolution in favour of subtly expanding their template. The results, once again, are glorious.

this review was first published on FasterLouder

SONIC KICKS | Albums That Shaped Me…

In this first instalment of SONIC KICKS, Iowa’s Dylan Stewart takes us through some of the albums that shaped him.
The first album I bought was...
Chuck Berry – Greatest HitsIt was the cassette version with an orange cover.  I played the heck out of this!  Classic tunes with great blues solos.
The album that soundtracked a relationship was...
 Doves – Lost SoulsSuch an amazing record that feels like a soundtrack to your life.  Very dreamy and atmospheric!

The album that inspired me to form a band was...


Dinosaur Jr – Where You BeenWhen I heard the opening guitar chords of Out There I was hooked! For life!  Although I now think that Bug is my favourite, this record still has one great tune after another!  A classic!

The album that reminds me of my high school years is...

Beastie Boys – Ill CommunicationI loved this album and Check Your Head.  I was a try hard skater in my teens that could never skate but this record soundtracked that whole period in my life.
The album I'd love to hear played in full live is...
Iggy & the Stooges – Raw PowerI was actually lucky enough to see them play this record at ATP in New York a few years back.  It goes down as one of the best gigs I’ve ever witnessed!

My favourite album cover art is...

My Bloody Valentine – LovelessNot only does this cover look cool and psychedelic with its pink hazy guitar image, the guitar is actually a Fender Jazzmaster which is one my favourite guitars. When I lived in London a few years back, I worked at a music store in Denmark street and was lucky enough to help Kevin Shields pick out a couple of vintage Jazzmasters that he was planning to play for their reunion shows. Their show at the Roundhouse a few weeks later was absolutely mind blowing too! I think my ears are still ringing!

My guilty pleasure album is...
Wings – Venus & MarsI still think this album is a good listen when I’m in the right mood but I don’t usually talk about it in interviews. I grew up with my brother playing this record and it just rubbed off on me.  
An album I loved but now have no idea why I bought it.

Hits of 1988 – I don’t want to talk about it!
The last album I bought was...

Bob Dylan – Live at Brandeis University 1963This is a brilliant recording.  It was only recently discovered in 2009 and is a live concert of Dylan when he was hardly known. His second album was about to come out so he plays a great list of tunes.
Iowa’s excellent debut album Never Saw It Coming is out now and available from Bandcamp and all good record stores.

NEWS: Dinosaur jr. Announce New Album Details

J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph have announced that a new Dinosaur jr. album called I Bet On Sky will be released on September 18th in the USA via Jagjaguwar, and September 17th in the UK and Europe via PIAS.

Tracklisting

1 Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know
2 Watch the Corners
3 Almost Fare
4 Stick a Toe In
5 Rude
6 I Know It Oh So Well
7 Pierce the Morning Rain
8 What Was That
9 Recognition
10 See It on Your Side

INTERVIEW: J Mascis

written by Chris Familton

J Mascis’ recent solo album Several Shades of Why isn’t his first release under his own name, that honour goes to Martin + Me (1996) – a collection of acoustic Dinosaur Jr songs and covers recorded on tour. In that sense the new album is probably considered Mascis’ first true solo record as it was recorded in a studio with original songs of a consistent style and feel. Ahead of another return visit to Australia to play Falls and Sydney festival dates the enigma that is J. Mascis brought us up to date with what he has been doing of late.

Stepping out from the shadow of one’s band can be a blessing in that there is a ready-made audience waiting to hear what you’ve done on your own. The flip-side is that there are as many waiting to criticize any deviation from the sound and style of the band you’ve made your name with. Mascis is brief and to the point (as he always is) when asked if he was nervous about releasing  this album under his own name. “Yeah sure, you don’t know how it is going to be received or how it will sell.” That fear of how the audience will react to a solo album is somewhat negated by the fact that Mascis avoids reading any of the press for all of the music he releases. “Not really I can’t deal with that. Sometimes the record company sends me review but I can’t read them, they make me crazy whether they’re good or bad.”

The desire to release a solo record in an acoustic form came from the simple desire to make a record that didn’t feature his trademark distortion and spiraling guitar solos. That decision led Mascis to sit down and write most of the songs specifically for the album with a specific set of style parameters in mind. “Stephen Stills and Incredible String Band, Pentangle. I had them in mind when I was writing the record,” he recalls. He then farmed his songs out to a selection of musicians like Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Kurt Vile to ascertain who might work best as guests on Several Shades of Why. “I just asked them if they wanted to play. I gave a lot of people a lot of songs to see what they came up with and I used the bits I liked.”

Touring the album has meant stepping out of the safety zone of Dinosaur Jr and the wall of volume and electricity that defines that band’s live shows. In typical Mascis style it isn’t something he particularly relishes. “Its a bit nerve-wracking, I just power through and try and get through the show. It’s all about survival up there and a sense of relief when I get off the stage.” To flesh out his sets he throws in a couple of Dinosaur Jr tracks as well as a cover of Edie Brickell’s Circle which has been in his sights since first hearing it when touring the Bug album. “We played it on the Bug tour, I guess Murph had the album when it came out and Maggie from Sub Pop was selling t-shirts for us and she suggested I play that song. I used to listen to it in the van and stuff.”

There are other curious projects and events happening in Mascis’ universe at the moment with the Bug album currently being toured in America, complete with Henry Rollins doing a Q+A with Mascis onstage, the release of Dinosaur Jr’s first three albums as a cassette box-set as well as the production of a replica of Mascis’ unique Big Muff guitar pedal called the Fuzz Munchkin made by Queensland’s Tym Guitars. Most bizarrely is a Weezer tour on a cruise liner in January alongside Ween, Sebadoh, The Antlers and Yuck. “I’m scared about that. I’m bring a lot of friends to try and buffer myself so hopefully I have a good time.” frets Mascis.

this interview was first published on FasterLouder

WATCH: The trailer for the DVD release of 1991:The Year Punk Broke…

Finally one of the seminal documents of the early days of the 90s punk/grunge/garage rock boom gets a release on DVD – right on the 20th anniversary of its original issue. Featuring performances, footage, interviews with Sonic Youth, Nirvana, Babes in Toyland, The Ramones and Dinosaur Jr this is essential viewing.

All footage has been fully restored with audio re-synced and remastered in uncompressed PCM stereo under the supervision of Sonic Youth.

1991: The Year Punk Broke is also packed with 65 minutes of bonus material, including the previously unreleased featurette “(This Is Known As) The Blues Scale” featuring over 40 minutes of additional live footage of Sonic Youth performing “White Kross,” “Eric’s Trip,” “Chapel Hill” and “Inhuman” plus a rare Nirvana performance of “In Bloom.” Other extras include live rough cuts of “Mote” and “Flower,” the original movie trailer, and “Broken Punk” — a 2003 panel discussion Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley and Lee Ranaldo, Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis and Filmmaker Dave Markey.

INTERVIEW: DINOSAUR JR

written by Chris Familton

When Dinosaur Jr reformed in 2006 many fans would have been expecting a fleeting reunion, a tour and perhaps an abandoned attempt at writing and recording new material before imploding in a collision of personalities. The good news is of course that the reconvened triumvirate of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph are a little older, wiser and no doubt mellower and as a result we have two new records and another Australian tour to be thankful for.

Murph always appears to be the most unassuming of the trio, perhaps because he isn’t one of the songwriters and has long been the subject of Mascis’ dictatorship when it comes to playing drums. On the line ahead of their tour of Australia Murph is keen to point out that the dynamic has shifted slightly when it comes to Mascis.

“He’s still pretty firm but he’s a lot more open to interpretation. Before there was like no exceptions on a certain level whereas now he’s definitely a lot more open to ideas or if I’m more comfortable doing something a certain way on the drums he’s more able to say ‘yeah lets go with that’ which is a lot easier and a lot more fun for me to have him relaxed,” says Murph.

The band’s live shows have also changed with the newer material adding a different element to the intensity of their performances. “Its just better and more dynamic, a little less punk and a little more rock. Some of the early material that we were drawing from was pretty fast and high energy whereas with some of the later stuff we are able to lay into it a little more, its actually more enjoyable for me,” admits Murph.

With the release of Beyond in 2006 and last year’s Farm Dinosaur Jr showed they are still on top of their game with their songwriting though according to Murph both albums were noticeably different in their construction. “Farm was more traditional like the way we always used to make records. We had a block of time that we set out at J’s studio and just really banged it out whereas Beyond we kinda just pieced it together over a period of seven months so it was a very different kind of experience. I think for us doing everything under the gun and having that pressure where you have to get everything done over a month or two seems to work better and I think this is why Farm seems a little better,” he explains, adding “Beyond felt like a reunion record and then Farm felt like we were a band again making a record from scratch which is a bit different.”

One thing that has stayed constant is the division of labour when it comes to songwriting. Most of the songs still come from Mascis with a couple of gems from Barlow making the final mix. “Its the way its panned out but at the same time J will say right at the very end ‘well does Lou have any songs’ and Lou will say ‘Oh you waited till the end to ask that, well I guess I have a couple of songs I could come up with.’ It always seems to work out that way which is kind of funny. If you were to talk to Lou he probably would say he is pushing to get his ideas in there, it depend who you talk to,” laughs Murph.

As well as having their own stellar back catalogue Dinosaur Jr have also made The Cure’s Just Like Heaven their own. In their hands it became an explosive triumph and it still features in most of their shows. something that Murph encourages. “I personally love to play it at the end, these guys kind of make fun of me because I like to play it all the time and they are like ‘man, don’t you get sick of that song?’, I’m always like no, we gotta keep playing it.”

Much has changed in the music industry since the band were first together and Murph can’t quite get his head around the approach of many kids who are starting bands. “Music these days is so much more disposable which is kind of a bummer for me, its just not as exciting, you don’t feel like you can count on it as much.”

“Lou’s very opinionated and he might disagree but there are two modes of music these days, there’s like the fashion end of music where you have people who are really doing it almost like a star search quality where they want their name in big lights and they’re really looking to break into something. We don’t even deal with that end of the spectrum, we don’t want to be some huge band postered all over the world, and we never really tried to be that way. When I was a kid with friends in bands we were just doing it for the love of music and it was fun and cool to party in the basement with some beer and have a jam. Now you get kids plotting world takeover and working with designers and promoters. To me that is really weird and surreal,” says Murph.

In the changing world of music Dinosaur Jr keep on doing what they do best – writing, recording, touring and most importantly enjoying what they do. With plans to keep touring and then hopefully work on a new album later in 2010 there seems to be left in the old dinosaur yet. Great news for everyone.

This interview first appeared on The Dwarf

ON TOUR: GOLDEN PLAINS first announcement…

tour dsdinosaurjr

Golden Plains have announced the first batch of acts to appear at the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre on March 6-8 2010.

Pavement
Dinosaur Jr
Calexico
Dirty Projectors

The Big Pink
Tame Impala
Midnight Juggernauts
Super Wild Horses
Monotonix
Gaslamp Killer
Nashville Pussy
Jeffry Lewis and The Junkyard
The Cruel Sea
The Crayon Fields
Ransom
Andee Frost
Wooden Shjips

Royal Headache

http://2010.goldenplains.com.au/

REVIEW: DINOSAUR JR – Farm

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Dinosaur Jr are now into album #2 as the reunited original lineup of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph. Many people expected the reunion to be short lived and that the bitterness of old times would rear its head to scuttle the union like it has for so many other bands. 2007’s Beyond was as good a return to form as anyone could have predicted and their live show proved to be as searing and joyous as ever. The question still remained if that was their last flash of genius or if they had plenty more sonic adventures ahead.

The brilliance of Dinosaur Jr can be defined by the way in which they identify their strengths and play to them. There is no more grandstanding and battling over songwriting credits. Mascis is the leader, the somnambulistic Womble who can create an electrical storm with his guitar while appearing to be fast asleep. Barlow is still the angrier melodic foil, contributing his golden batch of songs and some attacking bass playing. Murph is the loyal drummer, solid and reliable and content to play what Mascis tells him to play.

If Beyond was their revitalised calling card to remind everyone they were still here then Farm is a settling in album. It doesn’t have the sharpness and abrasive qualities that Beyond had and even the cover art reflects the state of mind of the record with sleepy (stoned?) tree creatures lumbering across the landscape, cradling children. It is exactly how Farm feels – big warm and cozy. Taking you away from reality to another place, unknown yet comforting.

The epic strains of ‘Oceans In The Way’ sets the tone early with its widescreen sound and the quintessential peals of guitar notes that Mascis showers over nearly everything he writes. It is almost like his voice is the backing track and his guitar is the lead vocal creating the drama and emotion in the songs.

“I’ve got nothing left to be, do you have some plans for me” sings Mascis on ‘Plans’ and he seems to be both content with everything he has yet still a mite curious about what else is out there. Lyrically Dinosaur Jr songs tend to be circular musings without any great meaning but it does feel like there is a wistfulness that emerges on Farm, a reminiscing and a questioning of everything around him. When Mascis sings “I got lost in thought, I’m over it” on ‘Over It’ he almost seems bewildered as if he out of step with the times.

Lou Barlow continues the pattern of contributing a handful of key songs on their albums and again he doesn’t disappoint with the grinding ‘Your Weather’. His vocal style is such a contrast that it provides a relief of sorts to Mascis’ endless guitar and stoner singing. Barlow has a melodic psych-folk tone that lifts songs in a unique way and its essential to the brilliance of the band and the album.

The guitar playing of Mascis is again the centrepoint of Farm. Like Neil Young and Creedence Clearwater Revival filtered through hardcore and punk it is such a distinctive sound that somehow never seems to become tired. To the uninitiated it may appear he is recycling the same bunch of riffs over and over but on repeated listens there are gems galore at every turn. The brief descending notes in ‘Friends’ are crunching and military like and the solo in the song is as bright and soaring as you’ll find anywhere. Contrasting that is the slow motion and swaying ‘Said The People’ that could be a metal ballad in another parallel world. In the hands of Mascis it is heavy with real drama and gravitas.

The highlight of the album is ‘See You’ is an absolute delight with its simple skipping guitar jangle and warm buzzing meanderings. It Is Mascis at his sweetest and most pop. It shuffles along like a sunny sunday morning and will have you humming the central hook long after it has finished. It shows that they aren’t just a one trick guitar solo band and that they can mix things up and still use the same ingredients that are in all their songs.

One minor complaint is that Farm is overlong by a couple of songs, yet even so, it is right up there with the best of their early albums and the classic Green Mind. Like their contemporaries Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr are still on a winning streak, proving they can outlive fashion and rise above musical trends. They meld dissonance with melody and they do bruised beauty better than anyone else. Extinction is a long way from the minds of J, Lou and Murph.

Reviewed for FasterLouder.