Beyond (2007) found the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr.—J Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Murph—reunited after 20 years. That album began with a head-spinning, fuzzed-out guitar line on “Almost Ready” that triumphantly announced the second coming of a classic American band. The songwriting and execution found on “Almost Ready” and on the rest of the fine work that followed, displayed a singular focus even in the midst of all that muddy shredding. Barlow and Murph sounded as rhythmically locked-in as ever and J’s guitar heroism moderated, but never overwhelmed, the proceedings. The unexpected rush of the reunion and the direct, enthusiastic playing gave the album a sonic giddiness, a certain crackle of energy. Two years later, the resurrection of Dinosaur Jr. continues unabated with Farm, but even if the band sounds a bit too comfortable at times, their second post-reunion record won’t disappoint.
Farm (pardon the pun) is a grower. The songs here aren’t as immediate as the ones on Beyond, but they are steady enough to burrow in and take root after repeated spins. Dinosaur Jr. has clearly settled back into being a unit and the results are audible. Anchored by three longer songs “Plans”, “Said the People”, and the album highlight “I Don’t Want to Go There”, Farm takes its time spreading out its seduction. Sequenced at semi-regular intervals, these three tracks also provide the emotional center of the album.
The vocal delivery and languid guitar line on “Plans” finds Mascis as world-weary as ever: the lyric “I got nothing left to be” sums up the settled, confident tone of the album and the accompanying respect earned throughout the years. “Said the People” veers as close to balladry as Dinosaur Jr. gets, with the broken warble of J’s vocals and organ backing reaching for the type of heart-on-sleeve emotionalism typically associated with Barlow’s Sebadoh. This genuinely affecting track sounds epic, sad, and introspectively stoned all at once. “Said the People” is the song most suited for staring at the lumbering grass monsters carrying children to safety on that fantastically surreal album cover. Acting as the third and final anchor of the album, “I Don’t Want to Go There” skips along before Murph and Lou drop out leaving Mascis to usher in the extended shred-fest that follows soon thereafter. Murph, as always, knows when to accent, when to drive the momentum forward and when to just smash his cymbals as hard as humanly possible. Barlow pounds at chords on his bass, a technique that fills out every available space in the low end between Murph’s concise contributions. A simplistic beauty exists in the best three-piece rock line-ups, and Dinosaur Jr. stuffs the sonic spectrum better than most. “I Don’t Want to Go There” finds them at their elongated best.
Shorter, more playful tracks lighten the color palette and recall some of the best moments on Beyond. “I Want You to Know” bounds along before a sing-along section pleads “Stay with me / I can’t let it go” and pulls the track to higher ground. Staccato guitar stabs punctuate the action on “Over It”, probably the most Beyond-like track on the record. Both “I Want You to Know” and “Over It” serve the band’s adept pop sensibilities while retaining their signature squall—equal parts punk aggression and ‘70s stadium rock. However, “Friends” and “There’s No Here” fail to distinguish themselves in the context of the songs around them and suffer by comparison.
As on other Dinosaur Jr. records, Barlow’s contributions—“Your Weather” and “Imagination Blind”—offer effective counterpoint to the Mascis-led tracks on Farm. Your personal take on these songs depend on which side of the Barlow-Mascis fence you tend to fall, but these tracks remain solid enough in themselves to work in the framework of the album, possibly even better than the Barlow contributions to Beyond.
Although Farm sacrifices some immediacy and fire for expansive emotionalism and nuance, the album is a solid addition to the Dinosaur Jr. catalog and one whose highlights may prove even better with time. Just watch them grow.
// Notes from the Road
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