Sunday, February 15, 2009

February 15: Dinosaur Jr, "Beyond"

Artist: Dinosaur Jr.
Album: Beyond
Year: 2007
Label: Play It Again Sam

It is a rare occasion that a band can make the best record of their career when approaching their third decade of making music together. It is even more rare when it also happens to be their first album after a two decade hiatus. However, Dinosaur Jr. has always been a band that did things "their way," and their 2007 masterpiece, Beyond is a testament to the endless potential of the band.

Beyond marked the first album with Dinosaur Jr's original lineup since 1988's Bug. Taking this alone into account should be enough to understand just how significant it is that such a stellar record was created. The rhythm section of Lou Barlow and the man called "Murph" on drums sound as energetic and fresh as a group of kids jamming in their parents' garage. The incomparable J. Mascis is clearly at the top of his game lyrically, musically, as well as with his unmistakable vocals. Throughout Beyond, it is clear that this trio left unfinished business musically back in 1988 and were ready to unleash it onto the world.

A majority of the songs on Beyond are outright rock and roll barn-burners. Updating their late 1980's alternative sound, the band appears ready to rumble with any of the current "rock" bands of the modern day. The songs are aggressive, and yet beautifully melodic at the same time; a skill that has always vaulted Mascis above his peers. Compared to other Dinosaur Jr records, J Mascis seems far more comfortable with himself and attacks the songs, both with his voice and guitar, in a far more vigorous manner. Even with his unmistakable "throaty" singing style, the songs are all gritty, yet bright.

The production on Beyond is also carried out masterfully. Dinosaur Jr's grey, dusky, somewhat melancholy mood is still there, yet the record sounds clean, but not overproduced like so many "garage rock" bands. Mascis' vocals blend in perfectly with the instrumentation and this flawless mixing may be largely due to the fact that Mascis himself produced the record. It is also clear that, for a band that plays with such an overwhelming sense of despondence, they are having quite a bit of fun playing together. Each song is vibrant and remains "fresh," even after repeated listenings.

Between the mid-eighties alternative moment, and the rise of Nirvana, the music scene was dominated by the "hair bands." However, throughout these dark times, alternative, more "roots" based rock was making underground waves with bands like Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. After one of the messier band breakups in history, one could only assume that Dinosaur Jr would forever live on the "bands that could have been" list. Their potential was obvious, and though he tried, J Mascis simply could not duplicate the chemistry of his original lineup. Twenty years after the founding members parted ways, they unleashed an absolute musical gem with 2007's Beyond. For those who love "true" rock music, you cannot afford to miss out on this album.

Standout tracks: "Almost Ready," "This Is All I Came To Do," and "What If I Knew."

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