Dinosaur Jr. – Sweep It Into Space
Released April 23rd, 2021 on Jagjaguwar Records
Once upon a time those rocks must have been dangerous, splintered and jagged, with razor sharp edges sticking off of them to cut the unwary creatures of that ancient Earth. Over time, the cumulative effect of wind, rain, and eternal surf dulled those sharp edges and rounded the splinters and jagged outcrops until they became as smooth as shaved skin.
Sometimes this is how I think of Dinosaur Jr. The Mass band made their splash in the late 1980s with noisy, squalling music that in parts sounded as though Neil Young found a fuzz pedal and in others like the inevitability of grunge. They scored a major label deal starting in 1991 but inter-band tensions made it an exercise in diminishing returns until they broke up in 1997. The reunion only took ten years, though, and they’ve now put out five albums in the post-reunion era. These have been great albums, albums that have lived up to the legacy of the band’s original run, but there’s something in them that feels like settling into middle age. The power and fury of You’re Living All Over Me has been slowly rounded down over time until it feels as smooth and as timeless as those round rocks on the shore.
Sweep It Into Space, the band’s first album in five years, continues that feeling. All the stuff is still there: the squalling lead guitar, the lazy stoner three-chord changes, Murph’s pounding drums, J. Mascis’ keening, yearning voice. It’s no longer as dangerous as it once felt, though, probably because so many bands since 1987 have taken some time to nick parts of the band’s core sound to amalgamate into their own (Broken Social Scene, I’m looking in your direction). Part of it is, I think, that the band has really not changed in 34 years. The sound has gotten cleaner, that’s all. Here, the production is warm and fuzzy, thanks to today’s Most Affable Stoner, the lovely Kurt Vile. It could by any post-reunion album, though; hell, for that matter it could be any album after Green Mind. The band’s real talent lies in crafting the same 10-12 songs in every outing and making them sound new and distinct; this is the same talent that has driven AC/DC all these years, I might add.
The key difference, then, between Sweep It Into Space and my personal choice for best post-reunion album (I Bet On Sky) lies in the singles, and there’s nothing on here that holds a candle to “Watch The Corners.” The opener, “I Ain’t”, is a textbook DJ song, and the lead single “I Ran Away” holds its own in the catalog but doesn’t have the sublime moment of the bridge in “Watch The Corners.” The Lou Barlow numbers (“Garden” and “You Wonder”) are a nice break but I’ve always preferred Mascis to him in this setting. So what are we left with? It’s a pretty good album from a band who’s made a career out of turning out pretty good albums.