Dinosaur Jr - I Bet on Sky

by Daryl Worthington Rating:7 Release Date:2012-09-17

The opening track to the new Dinosaur Jr album has a warm familiarity to it. 'Don't Pretend You Didn't Know' has J Mascis' traditional, relaxed, slacker vocals and guitar heroics, and there's the familiar pounding rhythm section of Lou Barlow and 'Murph' - the original trio releasing their third album since reforming. There has been some change, of course: the start to I Bet on Sky doesn't have the raw power of the opener 'Little Fury Things' off their landmark second album. You're Living All Over Me, and is significantly more relaxed than the opener to their most recent album, Farm.

It's still unmistakably Dinosaur Jr, but with a feeling of resigned broken heartedness rather than stoned frustration. There is also a subtle broadening of their sound, with the addition on this track and several others of synths and keys. Ultimately, though, this is an album which relies on what is familiar to lure you in.

One of the defining features of the music of Dinosaur Jr is how close they come to sounding like the dinosaurs of classic rock. Mascis ability to write strong melodies, and his penchant in the studio and live for extended guitar solos always made them stand out from their contemporaries in the 80s US underground. However, these elements of mainstream rock bands were always counterbalanced with enough quirkiness, unpredictability and sheer noise to stop them from slipping into arena rock cliché, a trait they have maintained on this album.

Track four, 'Stick a Toe In', boasts a soaring, epic chorus, with subtle lead guitar flourishes, a reminder of just how good a songwriter and arranger J Mascis is. In contrast, the verses are melancholy, droney affairs built around heavy, distorted guitar chords. Similarly, 'Almost Fare' features a mid-tempo, almost funky guitar riff in its verses. However, this is accompanied by a fuzzy wall of guitar noise through the majority of the song. Like many rock bands making their tenth studio album, Dinosaur Jr have slowed down, mellowed out and started to creak towards mid-tempo, yet they've still maintained what it is that made them unique in the first place.

The arguments between Lou Barlow and J Mascis are well documented as one of the principle contributors to the group's original break-up. As on Farm, I Bet on Sky features two songs written and sung by Barlow. These provide welcome changes in pace to the album, being more immediate and concise than the Mascis songs. 'Rode' almost has the feeling of a country & western hoe-down with its simple kick and snare beat and jaunty, twangy guitar riffs. Like his solo albums and work with Sebadoh, Barlow's lyrics are angsty songs of failed relationships and heartbreak.

If you're not a fan of Dinosaur Jr, there is nothing on this album that is going to change your mind. There has been a subtle evolution for sure, as is natural for such a long-serving band. Their production and arrangements have become tighter and clearer, and for better or worse the visceral energy of their early albums has been reigned in for a more contemplative sound. Their songs still have heavy riffs and sharp, dynamic changes, but they are less aggressive, more nod-along than mosh-along.

This band has grown up with dignity. They haven't tried desperately to hold onto the rawness of their youth, nor have they contrived to drastically alter their sound to keep up with the zeitgeist. Instead, perhaps befitting their slacker rock image, they have carried on as they always have, the only changes being what has come naturally over the course of time.

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