Dinosaur Jr. Don't Mess with a Good Thing on 'Sweep It into Space'

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished Apr 19, 2021

Thirty-six years in and it's finally time to rightfully name Dinosaur Jr. 'the AC/DC of indie rock.' While each have maintained a hefty career and undying fan base simply by sticking to a specific formula, the Amherst, MA trio's shifting sound would only be precipitated by the influx and departure of band members, much like their Aussie counterparts.

Sweep It into Space, the band's 12th studio album and first in five years, benefits from the solid lineup of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph — the band's founders who have appeared on every LP since their 2005 reformation. Set into motion at the end of 2019, the 12-track LP was originally slated to feature major contributions and co-production from singer-songwriter Kurt Vile along with keyboards from longtime collaborator Ken Maiuri. But as the pandemic hit North America, the trio instead hunkered down in their regular Bisquiteen Studio to record, with Mascis playing many of the riffs intended for Vile.

The twin guitars give much of the LP a beefier sound, as "I Met the Stones" profits from a Stooges-style chug that finds Mascis trading his typically strained guitar solo for tight verse-flanking leads, while "Walking to You" features a cavalier forward-moving swing rarely heard on a Jr. album. Vile's nominal contributions, namely the twangy 12-string guitar on "I Ran Away," adds a spangled countermelody to Mascis' regular word salad mumble, while J's turn behind the digital Mellotron for the jaunty "Take It Back" allows the trio to lay back and glide through one of their most airy tracks to date.

Although Barlow has mostly sounded uninspired on his last album with his other band, Sebadoh (2019's Act Surprised), the bassist's obligatory pair of vocal turns — the soaring "Garden" and the yearning closer "You Wonder" — each rank as album highlights thanks to robust choruses and impassioned deliveries. But aside from the few aforementioned departures of formula, much of Sweep It into Space comes off as archetypical Dinosaur Jr. The punchy "Hide Another Round" finds Murph delivering machinegun drum fills on cue, while "And Me" delivers such a textbook J Mascis solo that you swear it's pulled note for note from an older track.

While long-gone are the sonic textures of the band's early years — replaced here with some novel and resourceful instrumentation — the group's second (and now longest) run has been unbelievably solid and unimpeachable. Over the past 16 years, Dinosaur Jr. have learned not to mess with a good thing. And Sweep It into Space is undoubtedly a 'good thing.'

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