Where To Start With... Dinosaur Jr.
“Ear-bleeding country.” That's the phrase that Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis once used to describe his band's sound, but over the years music journalists have offered up plenty of alternatives. Formed in the Massachusetts town of Amherst in 1984, Dinosaur Jr. were always a fairly difficult band to categorise beyond the very loose grouping of 'alternative rock', but their influence can be found in the music of many of the genre's defining bands. Marrying the monolithic riffs of Black Sabbath with the melodic sensibilities of the Beach Boys and the frenetically fast delivery of Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr. were unique amongst their peers, delivering noisy but melodic rock at ear-splitting volume and pioneering the “quiet-loud” dynamics later employed to devastating effect by the Pixies and Nirvana.
Spearheading a power trio that also included drummer Emmett “Murph” Murphy and bassist Lou Barlow, latterly of the band Sebadoh, Mascis was routinely held up as a somewhat reluctant figurehead of the 'slacker' movement that included bands like Pavement and Sonic Youth, even being described by some as “the godfather of grunge” (he was once famously asked by Kurt Cobain to join Nirvana, but politely declined). In 1993, Spin Magazine put him on the front cover of their June issue, under the headline 'J Mascis Is God'. (“I was mortified”, he would tell The Guardian many years later).
Whether he was comfortable with it or not, fans of the band saw Mascis and his band as a sort of antidote to the mainstream rock that had dominated the airwaves during the 80s, particularly in America. He was probably unaware that his laid-back, near-comatose interview style was only furthering his reputation as the spokesman for a bored, disaffected generation, but even if he was, you get the sense that the news would have left him.... well, bored and disaffected.
However, despite his intensely relaxed public persona – or his apparent lack of one, depending on your perspective – behind the scenes Mascis was always a man with a very precise, singular vision of how his music should sound. When the band handed over the recordings of their second, breakthrough 1987 album You're Living All Over Me, the mastering engineer pointed out that the guitars had been recorded so loud that the tape was distorting. Mascis replied that this had been the intention.
By the time of their third album, 1988's Bug, cracks were already beginning to appear in the relationships between the band's members; Mascis had always been the main creative force, but having started out as a drummer he had very definite ideas about what the drums should sound like, directing an increasingly frustrated Murph's playing on a virtually note-by-note basis. Shortly after the album's release, he kicked Barlow out of the band. Murph stuck it out a few years more, but by the time of the band's fifth album, Green Mind, he had played drums on only a few of the songs, with Mascis doing the rest. Murph departed, leaving Mascis playing most of the instruments in the studio for the next three Dinosaur Jr. albums, with Mike Johnson contributing bass guitars and backing vocals.
Mascis continued to release solo albums under various guises, but it would be a full decade before Dinosaur Jr. re-emerged with the original line-up, making a triumphant return with their 2007 album Beyond, brimming with all the vitality of their early records, if sounding a little more polished. Two more albums have followed since – 2009's Farm and 2012's I Bet On Sky – and this week they're back with another. Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not arrives in stores today (you can preview and purchase it on the right-hand side of this page) and continues the rich vein of form that Dinosaur Jr. have found themselves in since their reunion.
Lead-off single 'Tiny' tells you pretty much everything you need to know about the new album; melodic vocals, frenetic pace and distorted guitars, overlaid with lashings of trademark J Mascis leads. 'Goin' Down' is another highlight, propelled by a chugging riff with Mascis singing the “are you with me when I'm gone?” hook in his usual casual drawl.
Some might bemoan the lack of stylistic experimentation present here, but if you're a Dinosaur Jr. fan just waiting for a Dinosaur Jr. with as much urgency and vitality as the last, you're in luck: that's exactly what they've delivered, once again.
You can listen to 'Tiny' in full below, beneath that we've picked five of Dinosaur Jr.'s best tracks as a guide for those new to their music...
'Just Like Heaven'
The final cut from their sophomore album, this is probably the highlight of their second record and as closing salvos go, they don't get much better than this. The whole album is very lo-fi and the recordings a little scratchy, but they really saved the best until last on this one...
If you only know one Dinosaur Jr. song, it's probably this. Taken from their third album Bug, 'Freak Scene' actually did better commercially in the UK than it did in the US and was the first of the band's singles to break into the Top 10 in the UK Indie Chart. Mascis may be bemused by the 'slacker' tag, but this song was something of an anthem for that movement, whether he intended it or not.
By the time of their fifth album, Dinosaur Jr. were sounding a little more polished in the studio and Mascis was playing most of the instruments himself, but although the guitars here are cleaner and less fuzzy, this is a song that's still propelled by a Mascis guitar riff, perhaps one of his best.
'Feel The Pain'
Taken from Without A Sound, another of the later Dino albums with Mascis doing pretty much everything, 'Feel The Pain' is almost enough to make you wonder why he needed a band in the first place. Fuzzy guitars, searing leads, hyper-speed drums; it's all here.
'Watch The Corners'
A standout track on their last album, 2012's I Bet On Sky, this is easily as good as anything Dinosaur Jr. have done before, proving that some bands get better with age. Powered by a heavy, chugging riff from the outset, the classic rock that influenced Mascis in his early years shines through on this track more than most. Best played very, very loud, obviously...