Friday, July 10, 2009

First Blush: Dinosaur Jr. - Farm

What was originally just the experiment of "getting the band back together" for Dinosaur Jr. soon became the restart of the group's career and a new album. Lead singer/songwriter/guitarist J Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph are apparently getting along like peas and carrots these days, and a tour is imminent. We did a First Blush on 2007's Beyond the day it came out, and generally liked it a lot before Serge brought us back down to earth with some poignant comments. This comes a few weeks late after release thanks to the whole living in Argentina thing, but here's the take on their latest effort, Farm. Anyway, enough of my yakkin, let's boogie!

Track 1 - Pieces
A quick pop from Murph brings us to some heavy strumming and we're on our way. The production seems too slick. Vocals feature something about "the pieces of our love" repeated many times. It's a low-intensity track which seems like more of a vehicle for some decent J Mascis guitar solos. I'm intentionally avoiding the word "boring." Not a bombastic opener.

Track 2 - I Want You To Know
Really fuzzy guitars, even for these guys. It's like they hired the guitarist from The Black Keys for overdubs. There's much more of a groove now, and at the 1:30 mark, the pace picks up a bit. This could be a really fun one live. It's more reminiscent of the Where You been era that didn't feature Barlow, but with some of his influence mixed in just a bit."Hey I want you to know, stay with me, I can't let it go. Hey, you put it in my head, stay and see, you know what you said." This is not J's most shimmering lyrical moment.

Track 3 - Ocean In The Way
On the one! We get a great downbeat opening with all instruments at once. Then J starts singing in a slow honky tonk. Obviously, Dino is always trying to push the boundaries of feedback fuzz, but right now this is not sounding very clear for me. I heard rumors that some of the CDs pressed for this release had some "sound issues", and right now I'm hoping that I didn't get a lemon. Hopefully it's just lousy headphones, though I didn't know these were lousy. The song breaks down at 2:16, a chance to catch our breath. J croons, "Come on down," but not at all like he did in Puke + Cry. There aren't a lot of hooks in this track, but I've enjoyed the mellow ride.

Track 4 - Plans
Really digging this one, and I don't even have much to say about it. It's like a classic Dino track, each guy doing his thing with a steady beat behind it all. It's gone on for over five minutes now and I have nothing new to say. Just that I'm enjoying it. I don't even know what this song's about.

Track 5 - Your Weather
We get our first Lou Barlow track, and it's got some punchiness to it. This is the first one we've heard that actually sounds "new." It started a bit dark, but by the 1:20 mark it's building to something else. "If it's rainin on your island, how am I deciding, why can't you?" Not sure if I heard that right, or if it means anything at all. Best track on the album so far.

Track 6 - Over It
J is wanking like crazy! Please read that in the cleanest possible interpretation. But this again just feels like he's going through the motions. Things get skippy around the 2:00 mark, but then we settle back in 30 seconds later. J's vocals sound sleepy. I guess I'm looking for something extra and just not getting it so far.

Track 7 - Friends
This is as Thin Lizzy as Dino can get. Murph is busy, but the snare is definitely popping on every 2 and 4. There's a certain singalong aspect to this tune, though it's in J's high, whiny octave. This is Rock and Roll and not much else. "Even if you don't see me, I promise I'll be here. I wanted you to lose control, I wanted to reheal my soul, and nothing seemed that strange, and my goal was in range." Man, these are bad lyrics. What happened? J used to be able to turn something simple and poignant at the same time. Now he's throwing out utilitary rhymes like the dude who wrote Miss Saigon. Great solo near the tail end of this one, though.

Track 8 - Said The People
The second-longest track on the album starts off with some promising darkness. It feels heavy in an intense way. "Of all the people to let me down, Of all the people while I'm out. Saaaaave me." This is the first track on the album where J acts like he cares what he's singing about. And it makes a difference. With a different band, this song could be a cheesy stadium rocker, complete with lighters hoisted aloft. Here it feels more meaningful. Halfway through, we hear sounds reminiscent of "Not the Same." They are welcome. There's a lot going on here (finally), and this track is definitely a keeper.

Track 9 - There's No Here
A wild solo can barely be heard over the driving guitar and drums. And then it goes on like that.

Track 10 - See You
This track is called "See You" and right now sounds almost exactly like "What else is new" which begins with the lyric "I'd like to see you." I'm not complaining, just noting. Kind of a sweet, simple one that finally matches J's laidback approach to vocals on this album. This is a nice song. Nice. Now we come near the end and it kicks just a bit. Niiiiiiiiiiiiiice.

Track 11 - I Don't Wanna Go There
A thick sheen of rawk greets the opening of the last J Mascis track on the album. "You're the one who told me what to say. Would you come and hold me? Would you come and show me right away?" Again, these lyrics are simply vague. I don't think anyone would be able to connect to them. But this is the longest tune on the album, and they're making the most of it. Murph is filling in a lot of sound around what I can only imagine is three or four overdubs of guitars. I was raelly bored at first, but this album is making a comeback! J takes the last four minutes to completely shred his guitar. I am thankful for the shredding.

Track 12 - Imagination Blind
The other Barlow track sounds straight outta 1999 or so. Or at least whatever the hell I was listening to in 1999. It's got a decent fuzz to it, but really just passing time until the album ends. Which is soon!

Man, at first I was really, really worried. I thought this whole thing was giong to fall flat. But then things started to pick up at least a little. It seems clear that as a songwriter J Mascis is past his prime, but he can still play like dynamite, which is probably the most important thing. This certainly doesn't pass Beyond, and I don't think it will hold up in comparison to their heyday output, but on the whole, it is at least a decent record, and I look forward to getting to know it better.

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