Dinosaur Jr.‘s Sweep It Into Space is one of those albums that sounds really loud, even when you play it at a moderate volume. In these uncertain times, that’s rather comforting. It’s a year late, but J Mascis was never one to run when he could saunter. At least with this record, he had a cast-iron excuse for his tardiness. The good news is, it was worth the wait
Producer Kurt Vile has cut through the impenetrable wall of overdriven guitars and pulled out acres of melody from the trio. If you own and enjoy Copper Blue by Bob Mould’s post-Hüsker Dü band Sugar, you should stop reading this right now and scoop up a copy of Sweep It Into Space. Don’t get me wrong, the guitars are still noisy and the rhythm section is still aggressive, but the melodies have been dug out from underneath the layers of fuzz and placed firmly at the forefront of every song on this record.
The album starts with the sprightly rocker “I Ain’t”, which tips its baseball cap in the direction of “Teenage Riot” era Sonic Youth. Despite the rather nihilistic title, it’s crammed with lovely hooks and even a cute backup vocal. And they manage to do all that without sacrificing their power. “I Met the Stones” starts a little like “Living After Midnight” by Judas Priest before settling into the delightful, sludgy groove that we’ve come to know and love. If Mascis did meet the Stones, what on earth did they talk about? I think we should be told.
Just when you’re settling down into a melody-friendly noise fest, along comes “Take It Back”. It’s a weird mixture of grunge and country-rock with a bit of barrelhouse piano and Mascis making his debut on Mellotron, thrown in for good measure. And yet, it sounds great. Pushed along by Murph’s charmingly clattering drums, the tune takes the most unlikely of components and blends them into something splendid.
When Mascis gets a hold on his inner Hendrix, beautiful things happen. “And Me” is a taut little rocker that sounds like your favorite power-pop band after way too many energy drinks. Mascis holds the guitar abuse in check until the solo section, where he splurges in a very appealing manner. “I Expect It Always” occupies similar territory but is darker with some lovely chord changes. In the elegant gibberish of the lyric, out pops a lovely line: “All the changes pending / Traction for the flow.” I’m not sure what it means, but I agree with it.
Lou Barlow contributes his customary brace of tunes to Sweep It Into Space. “Garden” is an earnestly sung, mid-tempo tune with hope at its core. The middle eight is gorgeous – in fact, the whole thing is gorgeous. Mascis counterpoints the vocal melody with just the right amount of stinging lead work. Barlow’s second tune, “You Wonder”, rounds off the record in a sweet, low-key manner. It’s a little bit CSNY in places, but without the stacked harmonies. This is not the kind of Neil Young reference we normally associate with Dinosaur Jr.
Dinosaur Jr’s rebirth is proving to be the most consistent period of the band’s career. The run of records from 2007’s Beyond through to Sweep It Into Space all have moments of brilliance, but on this album, the band have excelled. Whether it was the influence of Vile, who adds some lovely guitar and vocal touches, as well as pop smarts to the record, or the shadow of COVID, which somehow put Mascis in a brighter mood, is a debate for another time. What they have delivered sounds like Dinosaur Jr. are at ease with themselves, but they still enjoy making a hellacious din at the appropriate time. Thank you, gentlemen. We needed that.