Grammy do you want your Grunge shawl?
Yes my boy I do, why thank you.
Which one do you want? Alice In Chains, Nirvana, Mudhoney?
I’ll has my pretty Dinosaur JR one.
Ah yes, the grunge shawl, it covers those of us who lived through the era and keeps us warm against the cold of shoe-gaze indie rock and hipster metal. Returning to our closet of warm duvets is Dinosaur JR and their rather whimsical new album I Bet The Sky. As bands of the early nineties go, Dinosaur JR were one of the most beloved if also one of the most unappreciated. The band called it quits in 1997 but returned to play their unique version of noisy, guitar saturated melancholy rock in 2005. In 2007 they released Beyond followed by 2009’s Farm with Lou Barlow and J Mascis together in the band for the first time since 1988.
Some things remain the same with I Bet The Sky. Dinosaur JR’s penchant for saturated guitars, feedback and melodic vocals hasn’t changed. The difference with this album is how light it is, how capricious the songs and the playing are as compared to other releases. Mascis keeps his narrative vocal style, which I was always intrigued by. Few singers outside of Neil Young or Morrissey, at least in pop music, are able to make their words personal but remain eerily detached in their delivery. The difference with this album comes is the fact that, for the first time, Mascis seems to be enjoying himself.
Dinosaur JR kick I Bet The Sky off with one of their catchiest riffs to date. Riding the crest of that riff “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” absolutely bounces. When the crescendo comes for the chorus the band sounds elated and, somewhere in the background, Mascis sounds nearly happy. “Almost Fare” is another gem on the album. The low distorted guitar plays second fiddle to the acoustic guitar and Mascis delivers his lines in the same way you’d enjoy a balmy spring/fall day on the porch with a few beers and some classic rock jams. To tear deep into my bag of clichés, I Bet The Sky comes across like spring as it turns into fall. That kind of crisp and inviting magic surrounds the entire album.
“Stuck A Toe In” is a slower song and one of the closest to the original sadness and disenchantment of original Dinosaur JR albums. “Rode” brings us right back up to blue-sky elevation. This one features Barlow’s earnest vocal delivery. It’s the exact sound that made Sebadoh the darlings of the early, burgeoning indie scene. I love Barlow’s voice and was excited to hear him sing over a Dinosaur JR song. “I Know It So Well” is Dinosaur JR through a funk filter if you can believe that. “Pierce The Morning Rain” is a high-octane rocker, complete with the distortion soaked guitars that made the band famous.
Another big difference with I Bet The Sky is how it’s recorded. For the first time the vocals are really prevalent. Most of Dinosaur JR’s catalog features Mascis dueling with the loud guitars and crashing drums. Here Mascis is the leader, his vocals direct the song and the music supports him. Not having to fight to hear the vocals is a nice touch and makes the entire record a more relaxed event.
Nothing happening on I Bet The Sky matches Dinosaur JR’s work between 1987 and 1993. That being said, this album easily surpasses their later albums and first reunion releases. The band seems comfortable in their own skin now and the songs feel less forced and more fluid. Dinosaur JR are one of the only bands not trying to recapture their original sound or cash in on some nostalgia reunion trip like other groups of the era. Instead, laying comfortable in their foundation, Dinosaur JR stretch some creative freedoms with the music on I Bet The Sky allowing it to be more open, less dense and more accessible without sacrificing their identity.
So, for those who remember and for those who are just finding out, wrap yourself in the comforting shawl of Dinosaur JR and feel the distorted warmth.