Dinosaur Jr.'s 'I Bet on Sky' adds more artistic relevance to reunion
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
The renaissance of Dinosaur Jr. a few years ago seemed, on the surface, to be another reunion of late 1980s-early-90s alternative pioneers that, while welcome among fans, probably looked like a cash-in fueled by nostalgia. The Pixies reformed and sold out arenas across the continent while never seeming too interested in making new music. The remains of the Replacements were rumored to headline Coachella one year, while the Jesus and Mary Chain actually did headline that Indio, Calif., festival. Some fans are still holding their collective breath for Fugazi.
A couple of things have thrown any sideways opinions on the reformation of the classic Dinosaur Jr. lineup — J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph — back in the trash. First, the band recorded a fantastic record, Beyond, in 2007. Second, they followed that up with another strong set, 2009’s Farm, that did more than simply recapture the enthusiasm of the original records.
That commitment to being a true band more than an attractive club headliner is continued on I Bet on Sky, a record that keeps the band lunging forward, with spirits high and guitars slashing.
The best aspect of I Bet on Sky is not that it’s a revolutionary statement, though it is a definite step forward for the band. It’s not that the songs will super-charge Dinosaur Jr.’s already hectic live sets, although they’ll likely do that as well. It’s simply that this band has taken the furious energy of their initial reformation, made official on Beyond, and not only maintained that energy but funneled it into new songs and new music that do more than simply keep up their reputation.
Because of time and the natural evolution inherent in three committed, creative people, there are some textures and experiments that are new to the band’s sound. “Watch the Corners,” the record’s lead-off single, dabbles a bit more on heavy riffing than Mascis had under the Dinosaur Jr. flag in some time. Acoustic guitar and piano is sprinkled into “Almost Fare,” fwith Mascis a little more laid back than he typically lives on vocals.
Of course, Barlow’s contributions sound like slightly more demented samplings from his Sebadoh days, aided by the tight band and some quick, angular guitar from Mascis that leans more towards Tom Verlaine than the mega-alternative guitar hero he’s been for so long. Barlow’s contribution is especially strong on “Recognition,” with its acoustic break before the solo section flowing into a heavy one-minute jam.
“See it on Your Side” is appropriately epic, clocking in with nearly 7 minutes of guitar acrobatics cloaked in Mascis’ sleepy voice. It’s the type of song that ends, guitars buzzing their final notes through amps, and leaves the listener desperately lunging to start the record back over.
That’s how the entire Dinosaur Jr. experience has felt since Barlow and Murph rejoined Mascis. I Bet on Sky is more than just another excellent entry into the catalog. It’s a statement that this can no longer be considered a gimmick or nostalgia-driven enterprise. It’s a band, one that’s making vital music as they soak up their second wind.
Everything they’ve done since reforming has this listener lunging for the turntable and the iPod to restart the experience. I have a feeling the guys in the band must be thrilled they acted on the same impulse five years ago. More than a reunion for reunion’s sake, they’re a relevant artistic enterprise once again.
E-mail Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org