Dinosaur Jr. – Farm
Will it be as good as their old stuff?
That’s usually the first question most fans will ask when a band like Dinosaur Jr. releases a new record. When the reunion rock-machine Beyond was released in 2007, Mascis, Murph and Barlow answered that question with a ‘YES’ the size of multiple Marshall stacks. This time the band has been back together and touring for a couple years, and again they put to rest any questions over whether they still got it. Dinosaur Jr. has it, and for their new album Farm they’ve harvested a shit-ton of it.
From the minute the album starts, fans will be reassured. The opening track kicks off with an all-business flam salvo from Murph and big chords bursting from J, and you know it’s on. Being comfortably back in friendly territory, I set about really trying to digest the record. I listened to it all morning on my headphones, and then during lunch I cranked it in the car. As I rolled up the windows and let the A/C wash over me I closed my eyes and thought, if only I were smoking a joint right now, it would be just like high school. Which if you think about it, is really one of a handful of true tests of any Dinosaur Jr record: Can I hotbox my car to it? Yes. Can I mope over some chick who broke up with me to it? Yes. Can I listen to it while coming down off acid and drinking beer ‘till the cows come home and marvel at how J Mascis really gets me? You bet. Farm passes all these tests with flying colors.
So here’s what you need to know about Farm if you haven’t bought it already. Everything about it is big, full, rich and luxurious; the production, the solos, even the song lengths, some of which run north of 6 minutes (8 minutes for the epic “I Don’t Wanna Go There.” It seems a little less aggro than Beyond, which had a hurried feel to it, as if the band were in a rush to prove that they were back and still great. “Farm,” on the other hand feels a touch more comfortable. It takes its time and leads us through its landscapes. Some of the songs feel like sonic roadtrips, and the guitar solos I think play a vital role here.
Dinosaur Jr. has in some ways always been as much about the guitar solos as the big riffs they punctuated. They were one of the first punk (scene) bands to make solos okay. In the eyes of the original punk crowd, solos were seen as cheesy hallmarks of ballads, arena rock and hair metal. J Mascis changed that. His solos have always been killer and heartfelt, and these are no exception. They are big, plaintive wailing pieces that ride the foundations of the songs while breaching into the clouds.
In some ways this is a mellower record than some of Jr.‘s previous. Listeners jonesing for the frenzied stylings of yore might be let down a tiny bit. This one is a little more grown up. But the bridge in “Over It” definitely delivers on some of that good old fashioned fast-paced stuff. There’s also a playful quality to some of the guitar work in “Over it,” and the solo with nasally high notes in “I Want You to Know” seems both caricatured and very sincere. “See You” has some of the same pretty strumming reminiscent of “Start Choppin’.” And in “Ocean In the Way” the mellow break-down in the middle is classic Mascis. With its rich heavy texture punctuated by piercing wails and Mascis intoning “C’mon down…” it just feels like he feels your pain (sic).
But I’m no guitar virtuoso, so I’m gonna talk about Murph. Now, let the record indicate clearly that not only am I a longtime fan who listens to a lot of Dinosaur Jr. on a regular basis, but I’m also a drummer. So Murph has always delivered the goods for me bigtime. This record is no exception. His playing is big and tight and dead on. In other words, vintage Murph. Believe it or not, Murph also scores major points for restraint. I could pick out a few points where lesser drummers might have been tempted to take the plunge on a look-at-me flourish, or a big rock ending. But restraint is the mark of a pro, and Murph is pro all the way.
And talking about Murph without talking about Lou Barlow would be criminal. I tend to think of Dinosaur Jr. as a power trio with each member bringing equal parcels of power. So it’s easy to forget that Murph and Lou are still, and always have been, a rhythm section. And while it’s not surprising how tight they are as a team, what’s really beautiful is how his bass work blends so seamlessly with J’s guitar. I feel like I can hear Lou on some songs better than others, like “Your Weather,” for example. But even on the ones where I can’t hear him so distinctly, the textural depth lets me know he’s there, and doing his job beautifully.
There really are no surprises in this record. The only surprise is how good it is. Which shouldn’t be a surprise at all. It’s so easy for many of us to be dismissive of long-time musicians who put out new material. But sometimes it’s as simple as maturation. Some people, and some bands, just get better with age. That’s the great thing about musicians as opposed to athletes. I would argue that Dinosaur Jr. are better now than they’ve ever been. They’ve been doing it forever, they know what they like to play, and they’re good at it. Always have been. Now they’re only better.