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Dinosaur Jr. - Beyond

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Artist: Dinosaur Jr.

Album: Beyond

Label: Fat Possum

Review date: Apr. 23, 2007

What a blast from the past! It only takes a half second of guitar squall at the very onset of "Almost Ready" to transport you back into 1986 or thereabouts, if you've ever been there...or even if you've visited via the trio of old line-up Dinosaur Jr. records reissued by Merge a couple of years ago. The spiraling, distortion-drenched guitar solos, the cracked and ruined moan of Mascis, the passive-aggressive romanticism, the relentless beat, the pedals, the sheer turbulent volume...it's just like Where You Been? all over again, with all the positives and negatives that the comparison implies. No, Mascis is not a Neil Young-like figure who continually reinvents himself just for the sheer perversity of it; he's standing right there where you left him, grey hair flopping over his shoulders, ear-tuning his guitar before rampaging through yet another punk-grunge-metal blasted landscape, exactly like he did last time out. And that's not a terrible thing, is it? What did you expect? Chamber music?

The new thing - or least the different thing - this time is that Barlow's back, old tensions assuaged somehow by a continuous stream of festival gigs, worshipful profiles and maybe a little interpersonal softening. So, there's an opportunity again, for the first time in twentyodd years, for that impossibly volatile combination of energies that made You're Living All Over Me what it was. Soaring guitar solos next to inexorable hooks, monstrous walls of feedback abutting weird sampled intervals, stadium-ready rock beats under clever, pop-friendly lyrics...it was nitro in close proximity to glycerin, and when it blew up, no one could pretend to be really surprised.

It sounds here like that newfound peace is fragile, as neither Mascis nor Barlow (nor long-in-the-crossfire drummer Murph) test it very hard. Or maybe they've just been apart too long to do the Vulcan mind meld. In any case, there's very little cross-fertilization in Beyond. There are nine Mascis songs and two Barlow songs, and if you can't tell them apart blindfolded, you haven't been paying attention. The disc starts with three Mascis tracks, both so consistent with his past work that you start to rifle through the catalog to see if you can find an exact match. No luck. Closest to "Almost Ready," with its high, rapid-fire lyricism over sludge-encrusted bass, is maybe "What Else is New?" but they're cousins, not clones. And "Crumble," with its laidback strumming and ghostly, broken singing seems almost relaxed next to the howling angst of You're Living All Over Me. Finally, "Pick Me Up" has the chugging, abrasive hardcore bass/drum underpinnings of the very earliest Dinosaur songs, though perhaps it's played a little slower. None of these cuts fall neatly into "that sounds just like" slots, but there's a deep familiarity and comfort level. If you spent any number of late nights blasting Dinosaur Jr. on the headphones when you were young, tracks like these will make you happy, no way around it.

The Barlow cuts are poppier, but by no means wimpy. "Back To Your Heart" has the minor-key melodicism of a good Folk Implosion song, though dredged in a thicker coating of distortion and feedback, and "Lightning Bulb" is a pop tune wrapped in a winding sheet of ominous guitar slashes, a backing so thick and obscuring that you can hardly hear the vocal line.

Still, Beyond is mostly Mascis' show. He's waited a long time for his particular blend of punk aggression and arena rock whine to come back around. Now that it's happened, he's not making any concessions to a changed world. "Is it all me?" he howls, in the aptly named "Been There All the Time," his voice breaking on the high notes and obliterated with the inevitable explosive burst of guitar. Not quite all, but close.

By Jennifer Kelly

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