Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I Ain't Tellin' You a Secret, I Ain't Tellin' You No Lie -- Dinosaur Jr

I often collect music in huge groupings, often managing to catch names and groups that I've seen, read, or had recommended all at once, then find myself having difficulty keeping enough track to explicitly explore any that do not immediately have some effect on me. This is the primary reason I set up a poll on the right side of the page to help me pare down my listening and focus it a bit. It was mostly successful, though the runaway nature of my post about The Church (after both the Church's official Facebook and Steve Kilbey himself--calling it "worth reading" [!]--shared it through Facebook, it has had nearly 500 views, which is about...33x the usual views I have) caught me in an interesting problem, as former leaders, 70's pop-glam-stomp-rockers Slade were suddenly over-taken by alternative guitar-driven power trio Dinosaur Jr. Of course, the Big Star official page had also given me another couple hits, so maybe it was them? I can't be sure, of course, though I only wonder out of curiosity. I'd believe either of them.

Anyway, I'd been learning what I knew of Slade's Slayed? and Nobody's Fools when all this happened and I had to shift gears. Luckily, the alternating leads--in the poll, not guitar leads--meant I'd already been dropping in little tastes of Dinosaur Jr the whole time, but it seemed Slade were in the lead for sure and now I was just all goofed up.

However, as agreed, I'm going to write about the final winner: Dinosaur Jr. The name, like many, passed my eyes many times over the years--mentions as opening act or headliner for whom another band opened, an influence, a love, an example, but never enough to give me even a hint of what they sounded like. When I saw the cover art for the last Dinosaur Jr album, Farm from 2009, as well as lead guitarist and overall lead vocalist J. Mascis, 2011's Several Shades of Why, I got the impression of laidback, pothead, jam band type stuff. Of course, this is likely hysterical to anyone who knows the band or Mascis--at least, parts of it--or may reflect elements of the band or his solo work (or side projects) I'm unfamiliar with and be amusingly accurate, but having heard Dinosaur Jr for myself, well, I was ridiculously incorrect. Mind you, as a young child I confused U2 and REM (for which I was thoroughly admonished and mocked--though I later discovered they were commonly grouped together in some ways, at least in the 80s, even if not commonly confused, and felt a bit vindicated) and have trouble with confusing various indie bands I only know by name, often via strange trains of thought such as: Silversun Pickups -> Silver Apples -> Apples in Stereo, meaning I could conflate all three and be utterly lost.

Anyway, after seeing and hearing their name enough, I figured I'd give it all a shot. A cheap copy of Whatever's Cool with Me (a title which did not help my "laidback pothead slacker" impression) was the first drop in the bucket, though it's actually a very strange compilation. It's the named single, its b-sides (including those from the expanded 12" single) and the b-sides to "The Wagon," as released in the U.K. As a result, I didn't listen to it a ton, and it sort of sat around for some months. Mascis' name appeared here and there (I went back to check where, and apparently I invented more instances than I thought, but...he produced a fIREHOSE album and Dinosaur Jr covered "I Misunderstood" for the Richard Thompson tribute album, Beat the Retreat). Eventually, my friend Brian confessed his love of You're Living All Over Me, the second Dinosaur Jr album, or, to be technical and confusing:

Dinosaur's first release was Dinosaur, in 1985, and was followed by You're Living All Over Me on December 14, 1987. At this point, a band called The Dinosaurs, formed in '82 from the remains of various 60's/70's bands (Country Joe & the Fish, Jefferson Airplane, Hot Tuna, Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Dead, etc) sued them, and forced them to become "Dinosaur Jr," leading to the recall and re-release of You're Living All Over Me under their forced new name.
Note: I isolated this like a quote, but I wrote it. It's just such an aside and weird story, the formatting seemed appropriate.
 He described it, if I recall, as something along the lines of "massive and endless distortion, and just all-out rocking," though he can/may correct me on this front at a later date. I started playing the album that day and, uh, wow, he was right:

"Little Fury Things" album starts them off with a wickedly distorted wah lead from Mascis after a brief introduction from Murph's drums until Lou Barlow's bass comes in under Mascis' vocals. Their sound evokes their time frame quite readily, though there's a hint of the slacker mentality surrounding grunge of the same era, they came from Massachusetts and Mascis' guitar heroics--though Cobain loved them and Nirvana opened for them on occasion--set them quite thoroughly apart. Or, to be fair, didn't--much like punk, grunge was an absurdly limited term to many people yet described a diverse range of bands with few (if any) unifying elements. Let's just say that it's unlikely that much more than Mascis' vocals on this album would lead anyone down that road. Some people apparently describe them as Neil Young-like, but this is only reflected in the vaguely "whingy" nature they have, not any particular resemblance I can hear. J. himself apparently also finds this comparison annoying, and claims the influence came more from Mick Jagger and John Fogerty (not that I can hear those, but I'll believe that that's his intended goal all the same, as there's nothing to say he will reach his goal!)

Lou Barlow was the first one out of the group after the album, their next album, released a year later, Bug, having Mascis' controlling nature pushing him out in frustration on the parts of both. Green Mind followed after another two years, then, after two more we reach the last album I picked up myself (I've yet to hear Bug or Green Mind): Where You Been, which came out February 9th of 1993. The distortion is definitely still present but toned much, much further down, with Mascis' singing given a little more space in the mixing. The opener for the album, "Out There" was the song I chose to represent the band when I first asked what band to talk about next, but it was followed with a UK hit single, "Start Choppin":

"Start Choppin" has a great set of riffs behind it, starting with a clean one--kinda Hendrix-y--before launching into an awesomely catchy but simple one that backs most of the verses and is predicted by each falsetto-ed chorus from J. This is probably one of my favourite of their songs at this point, as I even love J.'s interesting approach to the vocals, as he suddenly shifts into the aforementioned falsetto to sing "lie," just as his guitar drops into that excellent set of chords.

The wonderful thing about solidly excellent guitar players is that they can play absurdly intricate leads, or even some that just sound like it to non-players and it doesn't sound like showing-off, even if it is, or is intended to sound like it. It sounds like just the flavour the song is demanding and fits, even if the song itself has yet to become familiar, as I'd certainly heard none of these before to my knowledge.

Heck, the third track on Where You Been exemplifies this for me, as it opens with a high-up solo from J. that does not sound at all excessive, even as it sounds relatively anthemic:

I'm definitely inclined to look further into this band, though I am not certain where to go next, perhaps Green Mind, as it includes the single from which those "Wagon" B-sides were drawn. If anyone has suggestions for a next album: lay them on me.


On to other things, for writing!

NOTE: As was the plan anyway, Slade will follow shortly, as will, most likely, Bad Veins. Wire I still feel a bit behind on, and I will spite you all with the Skids, despite the absolute absence of votes for their music.

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