Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not
, August 4th, 2016 10:21
Reformations never work. Unless you’re Massachusettsian sludge-rockers Dinosaur Jr., of course, then you produce career-best albums and get fucking Henry Rollins tagging along on your tour bus just so he can have a little chat with you before each show. What’s that I hear you cry? The Pixies, Mudhoney and My Bloody Valentine have also risen from the grave to show that the late 80s alt guitar movement is alive, booted up and kicking? Well touché sir, but the moment one of them equals or, God forbid, surpasses the quality of their golden age records, please feel free to let me know so I can take my copy of Farm off repeat.
Give A Glimpse of What Yer Not is either the band’s 7th or 11th release depending on whether you define their major label 90s output as the work of esteemed power trio Dinosaur Jr. or just a glorified solo project of lead songwriter and guitar heroes’ hero J Mascis. Either way it’s definitely time to stop talking about them as being ‘newly reformed’ given that Beyond, the album that saw the infamously bellicose Mascis bury the hatchet with bandmates Lou Barlow and Murph, will be 10 years old next year. Since its release the trio have been progressively playing more cohesively and, without the control freakery from certain members that dogged their Bug-era output, more joyfully than they ever did back in the day.
Perhaps the best evidence of this newfound unity is that secondary songwriter Barlow might have finally, finally, contributed the best song on a Dinosaur Jr. album with the magnificent ‘Love Is...’. This mid-album highlight brings to mind Zager and Evans’ ‘In the Year 2525’ if it had been written by Jerry Cantrell, and it’s a real pleasure to hear the sometime Sebadoh frontman starting to rival his old nemesis as a writer rather than constantly playing catch up.
Even though he has been contributing his own compositions in dribs and drabs since 1986’s Your Living All Over Me, previously these generally acted as breaks to prevent the listener from suffering too much J Mascis drawl-fatigue (I will never be able to conjure up a better description of that man’s unique vocal delivery than The Guardian’s Maddy Costa, who observed that he "doesn't so much sing as lie in the gutter and murmur through a pile of dead leaves and gravel"). Here Barlow proves that he’s just as essential to Dinosaur Jr.’s peculiar sound as the dude he once wrote Sebadoh’s ‘The Freed Pig’ about.
That’s not to say that Dinosaur Jr.’s bespectacled guitarist hasn’t been pulling his weight here song-wise: ‘I Walk For Miles’ is the brutal antithesis to this album’s precursor (the breezy I Bet On Sky) while ‘Be A Part’s repeated “broken hearted” refrain rivals alt-chart smashes ‘Start Choppin’ and ‘Feel The Pain’ as a horns in the air singalong. Part of the reason Mascis has always been so adept at casting out lines and sinking his hooks deep into listerners’ brains is the childlike simplicity of his songs. They might be wheezed out by an aging hippie punk who looks more and more like grunge-Dumbledore every year, but listen closely to the addictive, nonsense-friendly melodies of ‘Tiny’ and ‘Lost All Day’ and you’ll notice that they could just as easily have been made up by a bored toddler gurgling gibberish from his car seat. Mascis’ command of likeable brattishness and enviable connection to his inner child has run through all of his musical output, from the adolescent whine of ‘Freak Scene’ to lullaby-folk solo efforts Tied To A Star and Several Shades of Why.
Perhaps the only real problem with this album is its lack of any unique selling point. Beyond was a jagged garage rock reinvention, Farm a huge, craggy foray into the realm of prog rock and I Bet On Sky an exercise in smooth-edged restraint (even though it kept things brutal in a typically oxymoronic fashion). Give A Glimpse is simultaneously all and none of these things, the band picking and choosing ideas and textures from across their considerable corpus and redistributing them according to each song’s needs. The upside of this is that Dinosaur Jr. have succeeded in creating the ultimate gateway album, a perfect synthesis of all the ingredients that have made them one of the most intriguing and long-lasting guitar bands in recent history. So forget the lengthy ‘Top Dinosaur Jr. Tracks’ playlist you’ve been painstakingly assembling on Spotify. Just give your gran a glimpse of this.