PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Dinosaur Jr.'s Reissued 'Where You Been' Is a Rough-Cut Diamond

One of alternative rock's key statements arrived in 1993 with Where Have you Been. It receives the definitive treatment from Cherry Red Records in the second of a four album reissue series encompassing all of Dinosaur Jr.'s major label releases.

Where You Been
Dinosaur Jr.

Cherry Red

27 September 2019 (reissue)

Other

"They fucking beat you to it! You could have done it, you asshole! We could have fucking done it!", yelled Lou Barlow during a passing encounter with J Mascis in the aftermath of Nirvana's success. For a moment in the late '80s, "Freak Scene" sounded like the anthem behind which a new generation of indie and punk kids could rally. Sonic Youth were able to sing "Teenage Riot", having had a vision of J Mascis as dream President of a nation reborn. The shoegaze scene in the UK was fertilized by Dinosaur Jr.'s 1987 tour. Meanwhile, Sub Pop bands in the Pacific Northwest copped a part of their punk/rock fusion from the moves made by this East Coast power trio.

Unfortunately, what should have been the band's peak years were a bit of a mess. The initial lineup splintered in 1989. A temporary five-gun lineup came and went in the space of a single year. Their major label debut in 1991 was essentially the work of one man. A few tours kept things ticking, until finally an album emerged by a full band…But only in February 1993, some four-and-a-half years on from Bug, which had been released in October 1988. It was a different time in a different world. Those early hopes and deep impacts still clung to Dinosaur Jr., an albatross around the neck that gave them the air of alternative rock also-rans, when they'd barely entered the mainstream race in the first place.

It's a shame, because taken on its own terms, Where You Been is a rough-cut diamond thoroughly deserving its place in the Billboard Top 50 (at #50) and the quarter of a million sales that represented. Less sheepish than Green Mind, and benefiting from the first (momentarily) solid lineup since 1988, Where You Been sounds like a band embracing the potential of mainstream resources, matching it with renewed vigor and confidence, all in the service of an ambitious creative vision.

'Out There' has a barnstorming intro that lunges for the throat. But the glowering verses bring the mood down to the level of a cagey midnight walk through the alternating glare of streetlights and pools of shade. Musically, everything switches on a dime with 'Start Choppin', a catchy confection of bubblegum pop, all sky-scraping solos and upbeat strummed riffs. Vocally too, this is a Mascis masterclass: across five-minutes he runs the gamut from murmured lines to the earworm high note on the singable refrain of "I ain't telling you a secret / I ain't tell you goodbye", then the bridge where he's all raspy twists and turns.

Mascis' voice may be an acquired taste (I adore it) but again and again he knows just when to rise up, where to crack, where to edge it, when to let it drop. Even just on the repetitions of "goodbye" he toys with the phrasing to great effect. "What Else Is New" manages to be romantic, lovelorn, hopeless and gorgeous all at once, with Mascis' guitar reaching up-Up-UP! Then a well-timed drop to a pure acoustic refrain that bleeds out over percussion, strings, and a Mascics' keening ululation.

There's a lot to be said for John Agnello's work as an engineer on this album and it's understandable why the relationship with Mascis has continued to this day. Finally, this music was granted the kind of power it deserved! The bass and drums have girth and heft without trampling all else underfoot. Delicate strums and plucks stand out sharply from the mix. And yes, Mascis' guitar solos are like a flamethrower of amps igniting the air and pulling breath from lungs. This was the best of Dinosaur Jr.

The reissue seems to have benefited from a little spit and polish. "Not the Same" provies breathing space after the pure sugar rush of the album's first half, but there's a wealth of detail that make it more than 'the slow number'. The piano and violin have a deepened clarity and presence, a note held to underscore certain passages, descending figures winding round and round later verses.

"Get Me", a mid-album highlight, deserved to be the album's first single, matching "What Else Is New" for its whirl of emotion and imagined moments that stay in the mind ("trembling words don't make my eyes close…Every dream is shot by daylight…"). This leads to the howling question/accusation/resignation "You're not gonna get me through this are you". The answer that comes through guitar strings. It's under-appreciated how well chosen Dinosaur Jr. singles were, unequivocal star turns from start to finish. In an ideal world, maybe "Goin Home" and "I Ain't Sayin" would switch places, given the former's sense of finalé, but I'm equally enamored with the latter's surge of vitality and the ouroboros-like guitar figure that transfigures the song.

While there are no true weaknesses, the studio bonus tracks on disc one hang together less coherently than those on Green Mind. This includes a cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers "Hot Burrito #2", and an acoustic version of a song from the band's 1985 debut. The surprisingly successful Judgment Night soundtrack rock/hip-hop mashup "Missing Link" is graced by Del the Funky Homosapien. Stand out 'Keeblin' merges the gentlest of acoustic guitars with a roaring guitar solo --y ou can almost hear amp elements frying. Mascis contributes one of his most love-worn and ear-catching vocals here — no bass, no drums. It makes a spacious sound in which a piano provides a final satisfying intervention.

The second disc leads off with some quality BBC session outtakes including a rarity — Mike Johnson singing his song "Noon at Dawn". This is followed by a swift ,eight track long live set from mid-1993 that includes "Raisins", previously only officially available as a BBC session iteration, as well as a neat eight-minute long version of Green Mind's "Thumb".

9

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.