Young Ave Deli
Indie Grunge Rock
Praise the guitar gods, Dinosaur Jr. is back.
Sure, you could say that in some ways they never really went away. You can hear echoes of their sound every time a post-grunge band slugs out a chunky riff or when a jam band noodles its way to guitar nirvana. And only a handful of bands born in the early ?80s even made it out of that decade intact, while J Mascis kept the Dinosaur Jr. flag flying through various line-ups, solo ventures and side projects for another decade.
But now that the group?s founding members-- Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph--have agreed to reunite on the heels of the reissue of their first three recordings, it?s time for the official SludgeFeast.
?I had no doubt they?d be psyched,? says J of his band mates? feelings on the reunion effort. ?I knew they had wanted to do it for awhile.?
?I thought it?ll never happen, no way,? says Lou. ?But events conspired to bring it together.? Even his own mother was in on the effort toward reconciliation. ?I was mostly concerned that we locate Murph,? he says.
For a certain strain of alternative rock fan, Dinosaur Jr. is and always will be the power trio of J Mascis, Emmett Jefferson ?Murph? Murphy III and Lou Barlow. They blew the minds and ears of anyone who ever saw them play between 1984 and 1989 and before splintering apart, they etched the grooves of three classic noise albums: Dinosaur, You?re Living All Over Me and Bug (now available on Merge with bonus videos).
Notoriously withdrawn and self-described as a weird kid, Joseph ?J? Mascis grew up in Amherst, Massachusetts, stewing himself in classic rock riffage till he discovered the ways of hardcore punk in the late ?70s. In the band Deep Wound, J found a friend in guitarist Lou Barlow from nearby Westfield and with himself on drums, singer Charlie Nakajima and bassist Scott Helland, the four-piece buzz-sawed their way out of the Western Massachusetts hardcore punk scene in the early ?80s. But it wasn?t until J switched to guitar, Lou moved over to bass and Lou?s friend Murph joined them on drums, that they officially became Dinosaur (they eventually added the Jr. when a band of actual dinosaur rockers laid claim to the name).
It was UMASS Amherst student Gerard Cosloy (of Matador Records fame) who first recognized that Dino were laying down a unique confabulation of sound in the Massachusetts wilds. Claiming they were the best band he?d ever seen, he tipped them to his friend Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth who eventually asked Dinosaur on tour. And that was the official beginning of their mighty long way down rock?n?roll.
With Dinosaur Jr, J had found the perfect vehicle for his unwieldy, gut-bucket guitar leanings, fusing them with singer-songwriter melodies and obfuscating lyrics that a few years later would become the hallmarks of grunge rock. Back then, the combustible mixture hadn?t been heard much since Neil Young and Crazy Horse drew up the blueprint for garage-folk with Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. Guitar bands of the day (and there were many of them) may?ve encored with Young?s ?Cinnamon Girl? but Dinosaur Jr. didn?t have to: J had devised his own way to bend strings and bring to life the hazy and difficult emotions that words can?t always convey but somehow distorted riffs and warped leads can.
J wasn?t just dabbling in pre-grunge, he was grunge, from his oh-well-whatever attitude to his tangly longhair. Though ask him what he thinks about being known as the guy who made the meandering guitar solo cool again and you?ll probably get a typically shy response.
??Bulbs of Passion? was the first song we did that seemed like our best song at the time,? J says by way of sideways acknowledging that his work might?ve had an effect on a generation or so of listeners.
?Bulbs? was the last track recorded for Dinosaur, the album that debuts J?s disaffected vocal style and guitar splatter on songs like ?Repulsion.? Believe it or not, there are shards of sound ranging from garage-psych to speed-metal tucked into the barrage?s crannies, but it?s J?s leads and guitar flourishes that rise above. Lou and Murph are in knee deep, pushing the mass along, making it flow. The album was recorded for the East Coast?s Homestead, a prestigious punk label of the era, helmed by Cosloy.
?With ?Bulbs of Passion? and You?re Living All Over Me, for brief moment J and I shared a vision and a sense of purpose,? says Lou. ?No one knew about us yet, but I knew he was an enormous talent-- it was blinding--whereas I was just starting to get my confidence.?
If Dinosaur Jr. had any peers at the time, surely it was among the West Coast iconoclasts on the SST label like the speed-driven Minutemen and the spacier Meat Puppets, both dabbling in similarly sonic eclecticism. It was only natural then that with You?re Living All Over Me, Dinosaur Jr. found a home with California?s SST. The album netted treasures as disparate but weighty as ?Little Fury Things? (a wah-wah pedal number featuring blood curdling screams, a verse sung in harmony and a heavy riff); the super-heavy ?SludgeFeast;? ?In a Jar,? with its melodic bass and jangle of an R.E.M. song and a cover of the Cure?s ?Just Like Heaven.?
By the time Bug was released, the band had completely gelled on the sonic plane but emotionally they hit the wall. Opening with the flawless ?Freak Scene,? a perfect marriage of vintage punk and hippy swirl, the momentum continues through the frantic build of ?Budge,? as the album rides on the raw power of a band falling apart.
?I realized the storm was never gonna break, that it was going to stay dark,? says Lou. By the time J asked him to leave, he?d already been putting energy into Sebadoh, his band that would literally go on to define indie and lo-fi rock in the ?90s.
Murph stuck around for a couple of more years but with Bug, J had begun the practice of overseeing every aspect of his songmaking. The work style served him for the rest of Dinosaur?s recording life, as Mascis kept the name and developed his songwriting and fuzztones. By the time J conceived Green Mind, the world was starting to catch-up with him (you could even call ?The Wagon? a modern rock hit). With Where You Been, Without A Sound and Hand It Over, he?d cemented his reputation as a noise-rock auteur.
These days you?ll find J in Amherst, working out on the drums with various bands from the region, like the ?Black Sabbath-light? Witch, Lard Zeppelin, Upside Down Cross, or with Corecraft, his improvisational project with Mercury Rev?s Suzanne Thorpe--that is when he?s not on the road fronting The Fog, a loose amalgam of fellow heavyweights like Bob Pollard, Kevin Shields and sometimes Mike Watt, Dave Schools and Ron Asheton, themselves all devotees of sonic mayhem. Lou, meanwhile, is on the west coast, always adding to his vast catalog recorded under the names Sebadoh, Sentridoh and the Folk Implosion. Barlow?s latest release, Emoh, is a solo album.
But for this summer anyway, J and Lou have secured Murph and the three of them will be at it again. So what can we expect from the trio after all these years?
??songs from the first three albums,? says J.
?That?s the way it should be,? says Lou. ?In Dinosaur, we were always kind of stingy.?
?I still kinda use the same stuff and Lou borrowed his same amp and bass back from the guy he sold it to,? says J. ?I bought one of Murph?s drums on eBay. He might use it.?
?Exactly,? he says. ?I really have no idea. Anything can happen.?
Added by PulpFaction on February 13, 2006