THOUGH IT SIGNALS NO SEISMIC SHIFT in direction for their trademark dog-eared, heart-sleeved sound, Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is nevertheless a landmark for Dinosaur Jr. Their eleventh LP, it’s also the fourth since the group’s original line-up mended their bridges over a decade ago, meaning the reunited trio have now stayed together longer and recorded more albums than their original incarnation, an achievement all the more impressive when one considers the legendary and enduring acrimony that followed founding bassist Lou Barlow’s exit after 1988’s Bug.
On Bug Mascis had coined what became his signature sound: croaky, drawled songcraft crossing the ’80s US underground’s noise-soaked sensibility with frayed, countrified classic-rock roots. It was a sound Mascis nurtured throughout Dinosaur’s major label tenure, one he stuck with for his post-Jr. outfit The Fog. And when Mascis and Barlow buried the hatchet and beckoned drummer Murph back aboard, the band largely picked up where Mascis had left off, not where Barlow jumped ship.
So Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not is prime Mascis music, Dinosaur sounding at ease with what they are and do, but still thrilled by the possibilities within that framework.
It begins with a belch of feedback, giving way to fast-strummed major chords on metallic guitar, Murph’s hammering drums and crash cymbal, and Mascis’s hazy poetics. He has this gift as a songwriter where, out of context, many of his lyrics and titles (Yeah Right, What Else Is New, I Ain’t Sayin) read like text messages from sarcastic teens. And yet, sung in his papery drawl and drenched in the electric pathos and ache of Dinosaur Jr. at full pelt, simple, smoggy choruses like Goin Down’s “Are you with me/When I’m gone?” seem profound and dramatic.
“Mascis could sell this sound by the yard and you wouldn’t be a fool for buying it.”
And so it goes: the upbeat stomp of Tiny lifts a chord sequence from The Who’s Pure And Easy with enough bonhomie to pull off the crime; the wonderful, uncertain choruses of Lost All Day sluice aching vocals over swooning walls of tremolo-bar guitar. These songs could all have appeared on any Mascis LP since 1993, and that’s not a slight on his invention, but praise for his consistency. Mascis could sell this sound by the yard and you wouldn’t be a fool for buying it.
And then there’s Barlow’s two gems. He claims Love Is... was inspired by Bradford soft-rockers Smokie, but its dark folk rock sounds closer to Fairport Convention or The Byrds. Left/Right, meanwhile, sounds like Barlow’s other band, Sebadoh: understated, self-lacerating, sad-hearted pop.
“Craftsmanlike” does a disservice to the inspiration here, but the steady, unbroken stream of high-standard Mascis music this last decade suggests that, while it’s hard to identify a tangible change in Dinosaur’s approach since their reunion, something in the chemistry between Mascis and Barlow pushes the former towards his greatest work. And while conflict was once their fuel, the more sanguine mood within their braintrust proves equally effective at keeping Dinosaur’s show on the road. Long may they run.
Now watch a video of a dog on a skateboard, it is relevant, honest.