Sound: Dinosaur Jr. held an integral part in the '90s sound -- complete with gruff, overly laid-back vocal delivery and heavy use of distortion -- and the band found some a cushy spot in the MTV 120 Minutes lineup because of it. Little has changed in Dinosaur Jr.'s sound since that time, which isn't such a bad thing. The latest album Beyond still features vocalist/guitarist/songwriter J. Mascis' astoundingly inspired licks that carry the songs, not to mention the jam session-like solos that find a place in most every track.
Beyond is a turning point in a lot of ways for Dinosaur Jr. It is the band's first studio album in a decade; it marks the return of the classic lineup of Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph; and it's also the first release since the band parted with Sire Records. At first you may notice a change in the studio production quality, but it's not so dramatic that you'll be thinking about it for the entire duration of the record. If anything, it provides a rawer sound that fits perfectly with the heavy distortion.
If you're familiar with Dinosaur Jr., then you know J. Mascis has an incredibly unique vocal delivery that is unmistakable. While some new listeners might find it dull and almost lifeless at times, the '90s crew will probably just crack a smile. The vocals are definitely different, but it's not what sells the songs. Mascis is a phenomenal guitar player because he goes way beyond chord after chord in each song. While the opener Almost Ready doesn't show this off that much, by the 2nd track you'll be immersed in some truly memorable guitar work.
There are several guitar breakdowns and solos throughout the course of each song on Beyond, and the extra time devoted to them pays off. When it may be getting a bit too monotonous in a song like What If I Knew, Mascis turns the entire song with a simple lick. Mascis uses his guitar as much as, if not more, than his vocals, whether trying different voicings or throwing in multiple extended solos. It's that aspect that sets Dinosaur Jr. apart from a lot of other bands. // 8
Lyrics: Honestly, it's not the easiest thing to do to catch all of the lyrics on the new album because of Mascis' dry delivery. From what can be deciphered, Mascis does a good job of wording things in a unique fashion. In the song This Is All I Came To Do he sings, Hate to say it, but you told me so. It's one line among many that comes across in a clever way and fits his droll vocal style well. // 8
Overall Impression: There are a couple of standout tracks, but the most impressive one is Pick Me Up. From the theremin-styled solo (still not sure if it's a guitar, keyboard, or actual theremin) to the tempo change at the end, it is the must-listen track of the bunch. If you haven't been initiated into the world of Dinosaur Jr., dive into Pick Me Up first.
Whether Dinosaur Jr. is able to translate over to the new generation is anyone's guess. There is a distinct difference in Mascis' approach that doesn't sound like anyone else out there right now. Given the fact that the band was a big part of the rock scene that delivered artists like Screaming Trees, Nirvana, and The Lemonheads, there should be more than a few newcomers that find an appreciation for the resurrected '90s sound. // 8