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Dinosaur Sr.

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Dusted's Doug Mosurak looks at three classic Dinosaur records (Dinosaur, You’re Living All Over Me, and Bug), all of which were recently reissued by Merge.

Dinosaur Sr.

Dinosaur Jr were one of the first bands I flat-out loved, adored, felt like I understood and believed understood me. These feelings blossomed during high school, in 1992. Back then I wasn’t really capable of critical thought, save that the other bands I loved at the time (mainly Sonic Youth, Nirvana, the Pixies, and any bands these folks supported) existed worlds apart from most everything else I had heard or loved in the past -- and were very much different and better-sounding than what my high-school classmates were into.

I got started with “Whatever’s Cool with Me,” which I first saw on MTV’s 120 Minutes, a manic song with the same blasted-out power lurches I loved in the Poster Children’s “If You See Kay.” Then I moved onto Green Mind and my obsession took root. What did those lyrics mean? Delivered with J Mascis’ hound-dog whine and occasional smirk, they seemed so plain and easy to relate to, there simply had to be a deeper meaning. Musically I got used to his distinct lead guitar style as it had developed, a solid tone, expressive and assured, a melodic stance that was the living counterpoint to his dead-man demeanor.

That summer I located a copy of You’re Living All Over Me – same day as I picked up Daydream Nation, actually – and remember having to get home, then go out to dinner with family before I could sit down and listen to them. That was the longest meal of my life. I listened to both records when I got home and my world exploded.

So. You’re Living All Over Me is where this story starts for me, though it won’t here, because after listening to their first three records in sequence – the self-titled debut from 1985, 1987’s aforementioned classic, and 1988’s Bug – and can’t deny the effects of their early career arc, as the band bounded from awkward and nebulous, to confident and anthemic. And as time and repeated listens have passed, the music on these albums has only become more powerful, as has the M.O. behind it – it wouldn’t hurt many of today’s artists to focus on sculpting a sound and forcing a creative process the way Mascis did here.

Moving out of hardcore punk as the first wave of that music came to an end, it’s clear that the members of Dinosaur – Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow, formerly of Deep Wound, and All White Jury drummer Murph – were eager to play a more distinguished music in their own voices. But the musical landscape of the mid-80s showed few innovators (most notably Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets and the Minutemen) and a creaking period of transition. The landscape of popular music, being reshaped by MTV and encompassing mannered pop metal, new wave stragglers, hi-energy freestyle and electro hits, rap’s ascent from the discos and the streets to suburban America, and clean-cut college rock, had squeezed punk, noise, and aggression from its surface like a blackhead. All the better for Dinosaur to erupt as oily as a cyst on a teenager’s forehead. One look at the photo of the band on the back of their debut LP says it all: mulleted Murph is suitably heshed out; Mascis sports teased, dyed-black hair and a neck amulet, looking as if he was going to see the Cult; Barlow’s wearing a Cosby sweater, safety glasses and has an uneven, outgrown buzz cut that looks like a used Q-Tip. Critics and bullies alike would have a field day with these gimps. And yet the music they made couldn’t have been more necessary at the time.

Only total outcasts would have the time or energy to obsess over the ways in which they could mash together disparate styles of music, from Neil Young to maudlin new wave to the energy of hardcore to metallic sludge, and many points in between. On Dinosaur you can almost hear the records being broken then glued back together, and you can hear the glue as well, making for a disorienting yet inspired listen. Where it works best – on the single “Repulsion,” opener “Forget the Swan,” and the ballad “Severed Lips” – you end up with moody guitar pop, alternately wounded by introverted lyrics and lacerated by screaming blasts of guitar histrionics, hobbling towards a new truth in underground music.

The seams are pretty much invisible by the time You’re Living All Over Me surfaced. Years of road-hardening and a slow groundswell of public support landed the band on the SST label, then one of the most exciting showcases of new music in the nation. With help from the Sonic Youth Nation, and with SY compatriot Wharton Tiers behind the board, Dinosaur redoubled its efforts and created a maximalist masterpiece in distorto-riff-rock destruction that the world is still recovering from. Looking back at his career in Sebadoh and solo efforts, it’s hard to picture Lou Barlow ever being this heavy, his bass tone and downstroking style of play nearing Lemmy-like proportions. Not a single track on the album – not even Lou’s lo-fi hometaped closer “Poledo” – fails to get more aggressive, denser, more intensified at its finish than as it starts. Nothing drags here, even when Mascis’ singing strength flags; that’s when the pedals are hopped on with gusto. The swirling white-noise chaos at the end of “Little Fury Things,” the moaning tape-looped vocals in “Raisans” and “In a Jar,” the triumphant riffage closing “The Lung” and “Sludgefeast” – these are benchmarks in underground rockage. My favorite still remains “Tarpit,” a mopey plea for tenderness (“Stay and paint my face”) that ends in an apocalypse of feedback that blew my 14-year-old ass off the bed, and continues to impress and threaten now that I’m twice as old. It’s where the noise rock turns into just noise, to a startling, bone-rattling effect. Merge has replaced the cover of Peter Frampton’s “Show Me the Way” that bookended the SST CD pressing, with the band’s 1989 reworking of the Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” It makes more sense in 2005, displaying how Dinosaur succeeded so effortlessly in alternating the original’s untouchable riff and acoustic gentleness with headbanging choruses and a whiplash ending. The kids who will be discovering these records for the first time will appreciate Dinosaur’s topicality in this regard, but the rest of us will just remember an inspired interpretation of a great song that cut across genres and boundaries of popularity.

Released a year later amidst personnel strife, Bug showcases the control Mascis exerted over his rhythm section, and if the band eventually imploded under his heavy hand, it did so after recording its most cohesive work, and paving a signature sound for future releases. If You’re Living All Over Me is their best album (and it is), Bug’s opener “Freak Scene” is the band’s brightest moment. Mixing strident acoustic strumming with a torrent of psychedelic feedback, and mounted on a trippy-dippy hook that could have carried the song on its own, it’s Dinosaur Jr’s first undisputable classic, boosting all of their strengths into a perfect three-and-a-half minutes. And if the rest of the record doesn’t stack up, it certainly tries hard enough – witness the reckless revelry of “Budge,” the backwoods sunny day charms of “Pond Song,” the maelstrom of backbiting and self-loathing that is “Don’t,” and the loopy B-side “Keep the Glove” (included here with two videos) as evidence that Mascis would charge forward with or without his bandmates.

Listening to these albums again has been a fresh and rewarding experience that begs to be remembered by you and your friends, and shared with the uninitiated. If there are any young people in your life, do them a solid. Buy them these reissues, give them instruments, and talk to them about these records. Point them in the direction of other likeminded bands, then an open stage. Shield them from emo and eyeliner, let them grow their hair out and turn the amps up until they can feel it in the backs of their legs. Make a future where none exists. Noise rock built one for me. It’ll do right by you and yours, too.

By Doug Mosurock

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