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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.