Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dinosaur Jr.: Farm

say it to yourself: spectrumculture.com

As reunions go, Dinosaur Jr. is one of the few bands that hasn't fucked its legacy like a pack of overzealous and craggy-faced necrophiliacs. It's easy to understand why the long-awaited band reunion has become its own punch line; despite the ludicrous sums of money big-name reunited bands have received and the touchy-feely warm fuzzies fans have experienced as their heroes plod through the back catalog of their glory days, few of these endeavors have enhanced said band's legacy. The list of offenders is long, with the fossilized remnants of the New York Dolls and The Stooges recently hitting the live circuit. True to the official reunion handbook, both acts have likewise released truly heinous studio efforts that killed whatever little mystique they still had. And the less said about that 1993 Velvet Underground reunion the better.

Most disconcerting is that a club that was previously largely the domain of such grandfather acts now counts a few indie bands among its members. Though the results haven't been entirely disastrous - while the jury is still out on My Bloody Valentine's resurgence, The Jesus and Mary Chain's rebirth was a surreal letdown and the Pixies' self-desecration that was "Bam Thwok" was abysmally awful - fans could be forgiven for finding such resurrections needless and pointlessly nostalgic.

Yet the classic Dinosaur Jr. lineup of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph has managed to successfully dodge these landmines. Shows in 2005 were both commercially and critically well received, while 2007's Beyond was better than anyone expected, even if it did owe more to the more restrained style of the band's later major label releases than to the swirls of noise and distortion on landmark album You're Living All Over Me. It was, quite simply, an exception to the rule: no legacies were shattered and no studio atrocities were committed. It was a graceful and promising relaunch for one of music's most sorely missed bands.

For the most part, the Dinosaur Jr.'s latest album Farm continues this momentum, melding elements of the band's abrasive classic sound with the somewhat subdued vibe of Beyond. Most songs adhere to the template that has made the group objects of obsessive worship and shameless imitation throughout the music world: soaring guitar workouts, steady but somewhat muddled bass, insistent drums. Opener "Pieces," "I Want You To Know," and "I Don't Wanna Go There" all feature serious guitar muscle-flexing from Mascis, with Barlow and Murph's mid-tempo rhythm pushing the songs forward. The trio's studio chemistry is as good as ever, with each song playing to each member's strengths.

Mascis' vocals are what's most startling though, his paper-thin voice expressive without sounding overwrought. Indeed, with this delivery some songs sound as bleak as anything the band has done. A sense of regret and disappointment is implied in "Plans," "Ocean In The Way" and "Over It," with Mascis's vocals as mournful and evocative as they've ever been. It's not fair to flippantly brand these as wounded love songs, though some tracks could fall into such a category. "See You" and the nearly eight-minute "Said the People" find Mascis stretching out his vocals with a subtle country inflection, suggesting everything from vulnerability to bitterness. "I'm about to crack...didn't see you for a while," Mascis says in "See You," while "Said the People" plays like a slow-burning lament of "all the people who let me down."

There are a few flaws with Farm. At 61 minutes the album at times feels a bit too long, with those meaty guitar workouts sometimes a bit too overindulgent. Barlow's lead vocals on "Your Weather" and "Imagination Blind" are mechanical and wooden, with both songs feeling awkward and out of place. Still those shortcomings are minor. While the album is more mellow, pensive and controlled than the band's genre-defining early style, that's not a bad thing. Unlike other reunited bands, Dinosaur Jr. is likely not interested in digging up the bones of their past. Now with two solid recent albums to their credit, Dinosaur Jr. will likely be of the few such bands whose victory lap won't end with them hacking and wheezing as they approach the finish line.

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