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Dinosaur Jr.

+ {Deep Wound}

One of several success stories that emerged from the enterprising 80s indie-hardcore bastion, S.S.T. (BLACK FLAG, HUSKER DU, MEAT PUPPETS et al), like so many of their compadres, the promising pre-grunge DINOSAUR JR. signed big but couldn’t maintain a higher-than-cult profile in their homeland. Generating a refreshed vitality that took Messrs J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph beyond the millennium (after splitting in the mid-90s), stalwart staying power transported the trio back into the charts and hearts a decade later; the halcyon days of “You’re Living All Over Me” (1987) and “Bug” (1988), restored forthwith.
Formed 1984 in Amherst, Massachusetts, both Mascis (then a drummer) and Barlow (guitar), found their way, initially recording an EP as hardcore punk combo, DEEP WOUND, alongside singer Charlie Nakajima and bassist Scott Helland. The British “oi” scene (ANTI-PASTI, DISCHARGE, The EXPLOITED, et al) had not quite made its mark on American shores as yet, but determined to find a niche in the market for their own brand of off-kilter alt-punk, songsmith J Mascis took up the mic and lead guitar, roped in Barlow (bass), plus drummer Murph (aka Patrick Murphy), and metamorphosed into DINOSAUR – note that the Jr suffix had not yet been added.
Taking up “gas food lodging” at worthy NY independent Homestead, the trio had ambitions to rival that of their aforementioned peers and SONIC YOUTH, with Mascis coming across as an accentuated modern-day NEIL YOUNG.
Armed with several sprawling cuts that might’ve done with a touch of production polish (`Forget The Swan’, `Does It Float’ and `Repulsion’), their eponymous DINOSAUR (1985) {*6} set started the ball rolling. A raw blueprint for their distinctive candy-coated noise rock, that was good enough to secure an American tour support slot with SONIC YOUTH, the trio switched indie allegiances to S.S.T. After protestations from ageing West Coast rockers The Dinosaurs (founded briefly by an alumni of COUNTRY JOE & THE FISH and JEFFERSON AIRPLANE geezers), the J Mascis crew were forced to adjust their moniker accordingly. Having just unleashed their second long-player, YOU’RE LIVING ALL OVER ME (1987) {*8}, subsequent copies of the record posted up their revised DINOSAUR JR name tag.
Mascis’ lacquered drawl and head-spinning axe-work, was certainly reminiscent of more than just a few “dinosaurs” (YOUNG, IOMMI, McGUINN, included), and was certainly the group’s forte. `Little Fury Things’, `Raisans’, `Sludgefeast’ were brazen highlights that almost screeched and reached out from the speakers, while the unearthly `Poledo’ (back-to-back with his `Lose’), was said to be Lou’s disguised resignation speech.
DINOSAUR JR further developed their melodic distortion through `Freak Scene’ (licensed to Blast First in the UK), an indie chart-topping 45 which saw the underground trio pressed to the cardigan-clad bosoms of the globe’s pre-baggy indie kids. A wildly exhilarating piece of pristine pop replete with copious amounts of intoxicating noise pollution, J’s go-on-impress-me vocals epitomised the word slacker when that dubious cliché was still gestating in some hack’s subconscious. Accompanying parent album, BUG (1988) {*8}, was arguably the band’s finest moment, perfectly crafted indie-rawk spiked with scathing slivers of guitar squall. Lying in a crevice between The REPLACEMENTS and the impending grunge movement spearheaded by NIRVANA, the unevenness of stoners such as `No Bones’, `Yeah We Know’ and the psychedelic `Don’t’ finale, were tempered by twee-slacker, `Pond Song’. Surprisingly, the album was not one of J’s favourites, despite it guaranteeing the man cult status – for ever.
Tensions within the ranks due to artistic differences, led to Barlow taking his leave of the band for pastures new; having already formed Sentridoah, the similarly low-key/lo-fi SEBADOH were soon sweeping up indie kids from both sides of the Atlantic. Meanwhile, with Donna Biddell on bass (soon-to-be of TEAM DRESCH), Mascis’ mob came up with a wonderfully skewed cover of The CURE’s recent hit, `Just Like Heaven’, a record that signed them off from S.S.T.
Featuring the undoubted indie talents of veteran musos Don Fleming and Jay Spiegel (from B.A.L.L. et al), Sub Pop Records looked to be Mascis’ and Co’s next port of call; it’s just that the first version of 45, `The Wagon’, was designed to be a stop-gap one-off. The trade was ventured further when Mascis involved himself in the said pair’s VELVET MONKEYS faux OST set, “Fake” (1990).
On the back of a UK Top 50 placing for a re-tread of `The Wagon’, DINOSAUR JR.’s major label parent set for Sire/WEA subsidiary, Blanco Y Negro, GREEN MIND (1991) {*7}, picked up homeland sales (No.168 peak), while it cracked a more appreciative British audience by reaching the Top 40. Showcasing further slices of cascading noise-pop (including `Puke + Cry’ and `Thumb’), the record was more or less a Mascis solo album, Murph relegated to just three tracks.
While lonesome cow-punk J MASCIS ventured into soundtrack/scoreland by way of shared OST (alongside BARRY ADAMSON and various artists) on Allison Anders’ “Gas Food Lodging” (1991), extracurricular work came his way via a guest drum spot for hardcore exponents, UPSIDEDOWN CROSS. Note that some journals have him down as a fully-fledged member, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. And that was also the case for his production/player part in his reunification with DEEP WOUND’s Nakajima on GOBBLEHOOF’s eponymous 1990 album.
While DINOSAUR JR.’s previous effort had ultimately failed to live up to its promise, by the release of album number five, WHERE YOU BEEN (1993) {*8}, J had found a permanent bassist in Mike Johnson (ex-Snakepit). Their most successful album to date (denting the US Top 50 and UK Top 10 respectively), the trio at last reaped some rewards from the grunge scene they’d played a major role in creating. Morphed into NEIL YOUNG from the opening fine whines of `Out There’, and Brit hits `Get Me’ and `Start Choppin’, the mournful Mascis crunched every catchy, hook-line note in his alt-rock armoury; `What Else Is New?’, the sonic blast `On The Way’, and the GREEN ON RED-esque `I Ain’t Sayin’, particular fan faves.
Taking the drastic step of firing stalwart sticksman, Murph (who duly resurfaced with LEMONHEADS), the unremarkable WITHOUT A SOUND (1994) {*5}, showed signs that the DINOSAUR JR duo were becoming a spent force – almost staid and prehistoric. Digging out his cut-up Stetson for a skewered country-rawk delivery, the fuzzy core of Mascis and Johnson were still pulling out a few hat-tricks by way of `Feel The Pain’, `I Don’t Think So’ and the ballad-y `Outta Hand’. Had J and his Jr’s turned into the antithesis of themselves?
With both J MASCIS and Mike Johnson released solo albums in ‘96 (the former with “Martin + Me”, the latter with “Year Of Sundays”), the sad-core of the once-mighty DINOSAUR JR. stretched out for a swansong set, HAND IT OVER (1997) {*7}. Augmented by guest player/producer Kevin Shields (and his MY BLOODY VALENTINE accomplice Bilinda Butcher on backing vox), alt-rock would witness Mascis and Co slip into fuzz-driven folk on `I Don’t Mind’, `Nothin’s Goin’ On’ and `I Know Yer Insane’.
J MASCIS now concentrated on competing with former Dinosaur rival LOU BARLOW and his plethora of indie outfits, but although his best bet, J Mascis + The Fog, came close to stirring up some needed impetus on two sets, “More Light” (2000) and “Feel So Free” (2002), the man just couldn’t shake off the enigma that was the cult of DINOSAUR JR.
Maintaining their own need to branch out intermittently, the original DINOSAUR JR trio finally reunited in the midst of a time in the mid-00s when Merge and the UK’s Domino imprints were re-duxing the group’s back catalogue. Burying the hatchet without damaging too much of their pride, the Fat Possum-endorsed BEYOND (2007) {*8} was back to the trademark DINOSAUR JR of old. With his long-maned silver locks a picture to behold, laconic slacker Mascis and his team – Barlow contributed his two-penn’orth on `Back To Your Heart’ and `Lightning Bulb’ – locked in their inherit magic on `Almost Ready’, `Pick Me Up’, `Crumble’ and `Been There All The Time’.
Spreading their sprawling muscle further on FARM (2009) {*8}, DINOSAUR JR. finally had a homeland Top 30 entry on their hands – it’d taken them a quarter-century to achieve this feat. As strong as any PAVEMENT/STEPHEN MALKMUS set (another act in awe of J Mascis and Co), there was a cohesiveness to their churning tune ups in `Ocean In The Way’, `Pieces’ and the set’s epic NEIL YOUNG-esque monster-trucks, `Said The People’ and `I Don’t Wanna Go There’.
Punters were in no way put off by the gambit of 2012’s I BET ON SKY {*7}, another surging glide into crunge-rock… yes crunge, not grunge. `Watch The Corners’, `Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know’ and `Pierce The Morning Rain’, were almost immediately pinned up on DINOSAUR JR.’s fantasy best-of board. Soaring up into clouds of puffy faces – as depicted in the cover art – or just simply relying on one of the greatest modern-day guitar heroes in J Mascis, one could almost bet that these prehistoric rawk-meisters weren’t ready for extinction quite yet.
Having recently added another piece to their covers CV through Elyse Weinberg’s `Houses’, one was also reminded of other similar idol-killers: `Show Me The Way’ (PETER FRAMPTON), `Lotta Love’ (NEIL YOUNG), `Quicksand’ (DAVID BOWIE), `I Feel A Whole Lot Better’ (The BYRDS), `Goin’ Blind’ (KISS), `Hot Burrito #2’ (GRAM PARSONS), et al.
Jurasic and jangly from hair to toe, the DINOSAUR JR. trio were hot to trot once again on GIVE A GLIMPSE OF WHAT YER NOT (2016) {*8}. Sadly, it sold relatively poorly on home-soil (#72), but surprisingly hit rare pay-dirt in Britain where it nearly reached Top 20 proportions. Only two tracks from the pen and voice of Barlow (`Love Is…’ and `Left/Right’ sounding as if RICHARD THOMPSON had walked into the studio), Mascis swept up the remainder with the no-nonsense `I Walk For Miles’, whilst the opening triumvirate of `Goin Down’, `Tiny’ and `Be A Part’ (ditto the slow-burning/pyromorphic `Knocked Around’), give more than a glimpse of what they are – one of America’s national treasures!
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Sep2013-Aug2016

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