Dinosaur Jr.

You're Living All Over Me

[Merge Records, www.mergerecords.com]

Dinosaur [Jr. or Sr. or whatever suffix you want to throw at them] was one of these bands that revolutionized the way guitar could sound. I remember seeing them live in the 80's marvelling at the anger, emotive force and pure vile that they spewed on stage. They were smart about keeping guitars in the forefront, while J. Mascis and Lou Barlow sang words that seemed to be obtuse and buried in the mix. Their live shows were always a gas. Not once was I disappointed with what I'd witnessed. It's only appropriate that Merge Records decided to rescue the three most crucial Dinosaur records out of obscurity. I'm not sure what happened to the phenomenal SST label that issued these morsels in the first place, but had it not been for these re-issues, many kids nowadays would be forced to rely on tales of a historic band in collective memories of the few.

Dinosaur's self-titled debut [save for the addition of the Jr. suffix] was the first glimmering sight of a great band in the making. While their guitar attack was not clearly apparent yet, they were working towards the right goal. Always a crowd favourite, "Repulsion" stands out as a bluesy, highly melodic track. This brings me to another point. All of Dinosaur's records were in fact drenched in melody. Despite J. Mascis' harsh guitar work, the band succeeded in leaving songs behind that were not easily forgotten. Take "Does It Float" for instance. While starting out like a typical Dinosaur track - twangy guitars, Mascis' indifferent, somewhat naďve vocals - half-way through, it breaks into a completely chaotic noise-fest. This is what made this band great - total unpredictability within a loud guitar sound, all wrapped up in rock song sensibility. After something as strange as "Does It Float" [which on the re-issue comes with an additional live version], we get "Severed Lips", which turns out to be a tender, ballad-like moment for the trio. On this record, Dinosaur was torn between metal, rock, blues and noise. While "Dinosaur Jr." did not see the band at their best, it was a snapshot of a trio searching for its core sound. That core sound [and in my opinion their ultimate moment] arrived with "You're Living All Over Me". J. Mascis sounds much more confident here. His guitar is louder, while the overall result is actually produced [don't mistake this for a clean sound though]. Predominant whiny vocals are everywhere. When I'd first heard this record, I wasn't sure if J. Mascis was sad, bored or both. Guitar solos are kept to a minimum but when they appear, they're noisy and dirty. Much of the feedback on the record is clearly Sonic Youth inspired but this is no surprise, considering both bands played together on numerous occasions and shared the same record label. Murph's drums are muddled under the barrage of sound [often, just the cymbals stick out], while Lou Barlow's bass is intensely part and parcel of the fury machine. Too many stand-out tracks make it on to the record to pick out just a few. Personally, I've always loved "Raisans" for its grungy, messy rock sensibility, "In a Jar" for its message of loneliness and "Sludgefeast" for its outward sense of utter fury. A nice bonus comes in the form of two videos ["Little Fury Things" and "Just Like Heaven"] along with The Cure cover "Just Like Heaven" [that was originally released on a separate EP]. This is Dinosaur experimenting with its pop side. While most of the songs are straight-forward, during middle and at the end, the band falls apart into a metal-punk fury that obliterates everything in its sight.

Nine perfect songs of anguish, need and hate. What more could you ask for?
It wasn't that the band went particularly wrong with "Bug". It was just that I was not as excited about their vision at this point. In every sense of the word, the record is still as powerful and angst-ridden as its predecessors. At this point, J. Mascis has truly mastered the art of the perfect rock song. Right at the start, he invades with "Freak Scene" - a pop-rock-punk ditty about friendship [or so I always thought] which is wrapped in a blanket of swirling guitars. "They Always Come" is another perfect little ditty. Murph sounds much more confident on his drum set, while Lou Barlow's bass is full of usual power and fury. Penultimate realization of Dinosaur's vision arrives with the closing "Don't". For nearly six minutes J. Mascis screams at the top of his lungs "why don't you like me?', while he drowns his own voice with the noisiest and thickest guitar blanket possible. A near ideal anthem of angst if I'd ever heard one! A bonus is included in the form of two videos ["Freak Scene" and "No Bones"] along with the forgotten "Keep The Glove" that was originally released as a B-side of a single. The only regret is following "Bug", Dinosaur Jr. more or less lost their lustre.

- Tom Sekowski

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