Dinosaur Jr. – I Bet On Sky
I love how the songs of my youth are coming back to haunt my record collection. A slew of bands have returned to the fold, but for me, none has been more important than that of Dinosaur Jr, especially with their classic line-up at the helm. I Bet On Sky isn’t a return to form, but it shows the continued growth of a band we’ve all adored for many a year.
At first, I was taken aback by the opening guitar lines of “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know,” sort of taking an angular approach at first, but when I heard J’s voice it all brought it back home. There’s something so familiar about the sound of Mascis, but perhaps that’s due to my early acquaintance with the group. For newcomers, you’ll find a singer that sounds aged, yet comfortable in his skin. It’s probably one of my favorite voices in all of music. And while there is some heavy riffing going on, especially on tracks like “Watch the Corners,” I Bet On Sky is mostly an even keel affair, with J steadying the troops.
“Almost Fare” sort of pokes and prods its way into a full on chorus eruption, but I like the pacing on the track; Mascis never sounded so warm and personal, to me at least, as he does on this track. That is until the chorus just blasts off, only to return quietly a few moments later. Album closer “See It On Your Side” is a slow-burning guitar track, with these incredible bits of guitar skill dominating the early moments of the song, yet the star belongs to the vocal performance. Somehow J always makes his songs fit his voice, even when he’s not fronting Dinosaur Jr, which is a feat in his own when you consider how much his vocals play a role in the band.
Of course, one of the special moments on this record doesn’t come from Mascis but rather a Barlow penned tune, “Rude.” There’s an effortless bounce to the tune, and it’s definitely in the range of what one would expect from the group’s classic line-up; it’s definitely rooted in a sound very much known to fans of SST. Even “Pierce the Morning Rain” comes at you hard and fast, and while I like Barlow’s tune, this is one that reminds me of the first time I turned on a Dinosaur Jr. record. No matter how far the band changes and grows, there is something in their songwriting that will always feel like home.
Honestly, I Bet On Sky is a good solid record. You’ll press play, and hopefully you’ll listen from start to finish, but it’s far from their best effort. A lot of the songs have a decent punch, but other than three tracks that immediately spring to mind, there’s nothing that you can call an absolute standout. It’s hard to knock a band that sounds this tight, and I don’t aim to do that, but perhaps I was looking for the warmth from J’s last solo outing, combined with the tight-knit unit of Murph and Barlow. Dinosaur Jr. are clearly not the same band they once were, and yet at their core, they’re everything you love/loved about the group–so cheers to that.