It’s great to have Dinosaur Jr. back, even though they didn’t really go anywhere. Granted, Lou Barlow and J. Mascis haven’t played together for over a decade, but they barely played “together” even when they were in the same band. The story goes that Barlow and drummer Murph held separate, additional rehearsals, since they couldn’t hear anything over Mascis’s ear-bleeding squall when they jammed as a trio. In the studio, Mascis ran the show, writing most of the songs and producing each record. Barlow’s occasional contributions were the lo-fi home recordings that would spawn his Sebadoh and Sentridoh projects.
If Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life is to be believed, these guys hated each other bad, and it’s kind of perplexing that they’d patch things up now, since they’ve been getting along fine without each other. Mascis’s later work with the Dinosaur moniker is as under-appreciated as it is glossy and slick (why does everyone hate Without A Sound so much?), but his new stuff with the Fog has been well received. Barlow’s Folk Implosion even scored a minor hit from the Kids soundtrack, and he seems to enjoy the creative freedom allegedly denied by Mascis, since there’s been no stopping him from dropping dozens of horrible, demo-quality albums under his two or three pseudonyms.
Regardless, Beyond picks up around where the first record without Barlow, Green Mind, left off. “Almost Ready” opens the album with a roaring Mascis guitar solo, skillfully noodling around a pentatonic scale on what must be the cheapest sounding fuzz box ever. Dinosaur is the quintessential slacker band, not just because of all the flannel, noise, and Mascis’s half-an-octave, could-give-a-shit drawl, but because of the way the group absolutely worships Crazy Horse-style guitar solos. Honestly, anyone who’s had two or three months of guitar lessons and a steady regiment of finger exercises can kick this shit out in two or three takes.
It’s in between the showboating, when Mascis demonstrates his folk and country-tinged melodies and subtle but elaborate leads, that you realize what you’re listening to is pretty fucking close to genius. “Been There All The Time” is one of Mascis’s best songs, blending the sophistication of his work with Kevin Shields with the rawness of Bug. “We’re Not Alone” and “What If I Knew” are the kind of grimy ballads like his rootsier work on Without a Sound, but with a few more layers of grime. Even Barlow lightens up a little bit, and cranks out some Husker Du-style power pop (“Back To Your Heart”). In an era of dashed hopes, when seemingly every band I’ve ever adored has reunited with varying degrees of success—the Stooges being only the most recent heartbreaker—what a delight to receive Dinosaur’s most filler-free record. Maybe even Chinese Democracy will be good.