Have we reached that point? The moment where all those bands we loved from the end of the 20th century who broke up and then reformed up are now content, happy to paddle in their own surf?
For Dinosaur Jr., the temptation must be enormous to think just that; having almost single-handedly invented scuzz rock with 1988’s Bug, the modern music business, with its algorithmic playlisting and handy skip functions, must seem a world away from the sticky carpeted backrooms of the trio’s founding years.
It’s been almost half-a-decade since their last outing Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not, some of the delay caused by you-know-what, but on first listen you could be forgiven for having the impression Sweep It Into Space is just a slightly different – if, granted, comfortable and lockdown-friendly sized – t-shirt.
Recorded, as usual, at Amherst’s Biquiteen, sessions began in the late autumn of 2019, with the only change to a familiar setup being the addition of indie stalwart Kurt Vile, who would also end up co-producing.
As has become customary, singer J Mascis took up most of the songwriting duties, with his foil (again, as before) Lou Barlow contributing a pair of his own.
Conditions normal then? Well maybe so, maybe not; Mascis’ rustling howl won’t ever change, but lyrically at least he seems to be deliberately taking stock; opener I Ain’t, the often-sung refrain, ‘I ain’t good alone’, as if directly reacting drummer Murph providing the kind of snare-destroying accompaniment that seems intent on forming a protective cocoon around the threesome.
Mascis spent lockdown in isolation and, so he says, listening to a lot of Irish rockers Thin Lizzy. If there’s much trace of that, perhaps it sort of lives in the fret work and slacker punk they invented of I Expect It Always, while I Met The Stones is a more primitive example of the art, down on itself a little and trying to offer a bit of perspective, contrasting emotions laid out with, ‘I got excited/I got depressed’.
One of Barlow’s efforts, Garden, seems to be a pastoral antidote of sorts, its back-to-basics ethos a commentary on ways to heal the deep fissures which have opened up in American society.
The band, for their part, seem happy to be one step removed from politics in general but sonically, despite the disguises, their work has always deep down been a work of fully functioning pop.
This odd-until-you-think-about-it chimera comes in several forms; in I Ran Away (with Vile guesting on 12 string guitar), whimsical meets a bludgeoning guitar solo which could’ve been uncorked a few decades ago, bringing to mind Neil Young in one of his more vulnerable periods.
After this we jump cut (gracefully) to the mellotron-flecked psychedelia (yes) of Take It Back, while closer You Wonder builds from an austere first note to echo of all outfits, a Blue Oyster Cult for the post-post-modern era. Natch.
What does all this mean? Are J. Mascis and friends having a late mid-life crisis? Have they hung up their boots and gone fishin’ rather than figure out how all this newfangled magic happens?
Well, Sweep In Into Space is, by Dinosaur Jr. standards, an almost cosmopolitan sounding rebuttal to all those precepts, a band who still don’t really know their limitations and are still making better music for it.
Don’t put the RV and Hawaiian shirts out for them yet.