Review: Dinosaur Jr’s ‘Sweep it Into Space’ hits all the right little fury notes
After 36 years and 11 albums, we pretty much know what to expect from a new Dinosaur Jr album: Fuzzed-out guitars, perfectly ragged leads, some big hooks and catchy choruses, and a song or two from Lou. That's the way it should be, too. Like Guided by Voices or Bob Mould, the band all but invented a particular strain of indie rock that's still being aped today, and you can trace almost everything J Mascis has done to the template set with 1987's You're Living All Over Me. You don't really want them to do anything else, and J, Lou and Murph are remarkably consistent, not just in style but also in quality. What seemed like one of the most unlikely reunions -- J and Lou making up and playing nice after years of bad blood -- back in 2005 has given us a second act that continues to pay off. Dinosaur Jr are so dependable, in fact, it's easy to take them for granted. But then J slides into his falsetto, like on "I Expect it Always" from their new album Sweep it Into Space, before launching into a particularly ripping solo, and you remember why you love them.
Dinosaur Jr. do mix things up just a little this time, however. For one they brought in longtime pal and Dino Jr devotee Kurt Vile to co-produce. "J and him are good friends and so it was sort of like having somebody around cracking jokes, playing guitar, telling funny stories," Lou told Dig Boston. "He definitely helped with adding things to the songs, he did backing vocals and guitar stuff here and there." You can really feel the lightened mood -- Sweep it Into Space is their poppiest record in some time, and while J has cultivated a demeanor that you could call charmingly bored, it sounds like he and the rest of the band are having fun this time.
The good times and genial atmosphere are evident on the super-crunchy, quintessentially DinoJr-y "Hide Another Round," and and on "And Me," which playfully drops in a little of J's Cure-loving side with breathlessly strummed acoustics right out of "In Between Days." Acoustics are also a big part of the apparel on the album's lead single, "I Ran Away," that's got an instant earworm chorus and some nice twin leads. If "N Say" and "You Wonder" are straight off the back of The Wagon -- you can feel the giant stacks of Purple amps the minor chords are fed through -- they are still satisfying, like your grandmother's chocolate chip cookies.
Sweep it Into Space's two best songs fall outside the usual Dinosaur Jr recipe book. "Take it Back" is powered by a bouncy keyboard riff and subtle mellotron orchestrations that give the song a feel unlike any in the band's catalog, while still staying within their universe. Then there's Lou Barlow's "Garden," a sweeping, genuinely moving song about getting back to basics (friends, family) during particularly difficult times. With a swaying melody, it doesn't exactly sound like Dinosaur Jr -- it's very Lou, though -- and seems like the kind of song that would've been an accidental indie rock power-ballad hit in 1993. But in 2021 "Garden" sits snugly amongst the raging Jazzmasters, warm and comforting -- much like this great new Dinosaur Jr album. Keep making them like this, guys.
Dinosaur Jr will be on tour this fall, and before that will hold the second edition of Camp Fuzz in Big Indian, NY with guests like Sopranos star and podcaster Michael Imperioli, former SNL cast member Tim Meadows, and Detroit hardcore legends Negative Approach.