Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know
Pierce the Morning Rain
Watch the Corners
en: I Bet on Sky [info]
Three albums in to the Dinosaur Jr. reformation, and it's very much as if they've never been away. The fractious history of the original three-piece - J Mascis (guitar, vocals), Lou Barlow (bass, vocals) and Murph (drums) - is well-known, but since bygones were allowed to be bygones in 2005, the band appears to have succeeded where other reconstituted bands fail, producing work that is arguably the equal of their 80s heyday.
And so it is with I Bet on Sky. Mascis' unmistakable cracked croak of a drawl - always understated, sometimes close to a slacker's croon - meets his riff-laden guitar in a happy synchronicity of soft and strong.
The Barlow/Murph rhythm section rein in the more out-there moments, anchoring See It on Your Side when its guitar solos threaten to overwhelm, while still allowing the at-times astonishing set-pieces on tracks like Pierce the Morning or I Know It So Well to shine through.
A large part of Dinosaur Jr.'s appeal has always been in their successful marrying of heaviosity with a warm, tuneful, almost soulful pop sensibility. This album's most appealing moments are found in such combinations. Opener Don't Pretend You Didn't Know's lovely call-and-response chorus is one, and another comes with the purposeful Watch the Corners.
Better still is the questioning, angst-ridden Suck a Toe In ("Can I go to bed? / Slap me hard instead / Seems like the best way to clear the cobwebs in my head"), endowed with a beauty along with its melancholy courtesy of its melody and - again - the tender vocal delivery. Barlow's Rude is another highlight: upbeat and to-the-point, this is as close as the band will ever get to a perky folk tune, and much better than that sounds.
That the band's Awkward Teenager attitude is still in place after all this time - Almost Fare sees out gauche heroes hesitantly trying to approach a girl: "What should I do? (…) Touch her hand"; Watch the Corners contains the eternal adolescent complaint, "It's never fair" - is in equal part amusing, poignant and admirable. Which serves as a good precis of the appeal of this heroically evolution-resistant band.