I Bet On Sky
Unlike their species namesake, Dinosaur Jr. survived their age (the garage rock/grunge era) and have even aged nobly with some of their best albums coming this past decade, over 20 years after their debut in 1985. While it definitely isn’t appropriate to compare this crunchy raw garage trio to a fine wine, the better comparison would be fellow nobly aged rock stars Neil Young and Tom Waits. The reason these artists’ music still works well years after they started is their music is raw, honest, and ugly (in a good way) as they sing about being tired and weary – all things people become more and more of as they age, making the music feel truer than ever. One look at J Mascis, the band’s guitarist, singer, and primary songwriter, and there is no doubt the dude fits all those descriptions. The band’s latest, I Bet On Sky, is more invigorated muscular rock from Dinosaur Jr. that doesn’t quite reach the height of their last couple releases.
As to be expected, opener “I Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know” wastes no time bursting out of your speakers – leading with the same driving melodic rock that the band has stapled – but they save their best melodic idea for three minutes in when a funky keyboard melody underlines the song slowly growing in size and groove. “Watch the Corners” follows with an equally muscular guitar riff lumbering along before J Mascis finally brings the song home with that classic soaring J Mascis guitar solo that perfectly caps so many of their songs. That gets at what the band does best; which is properly balance melody with muscle, and they do it louder than anyone else…literally. Dinosaur Jr. is easily the loudest show I have ever been to – my ears were still buzzing four days after.
Dinosaur Jr. then offers up the perfectly timed change-up in “Rude”, the first song on the record sung by bassist and Sebadoh frontman Lou Barlow. “Rude” plays out like 80’s REM (aka the best of REM) with 3 minutes of vibrant alt rock. Barlow also takes vocal duties on “Recognition”, a bouncy mid-tempo (by Dinosaur Jr.’s standards) prog-rock opus which brings the fuzz, Murph’s dense drum breakdowns, and Barlow’s sincere voice – one of rock music’s least appreciated gems. While J Mascis has a distinctive and worthy voice unto its own, it can prove burdensome over several listens and Barlow’s voice always offers a lift in the midst of J Mascis’s world-weary murmur.
Other highlights on I Bet On Sky include the southern rock spit of “Know It Oh So Well” and the epically riffed “Pierce the Morning Rain”, which stands as the best song on I Bet On Sky, countering a monster guitar hook with the most lifting chorus of the album forcing the clouds out for an ounce of sunshine, even if it’s only for a moment.
There are moments on I Bet On Sky that lack the punch and vigor that the trio’s known for (“Almost Fare”, “What Was That”), but for the most part, the album provides the same great product the band has provided for 27 years: muscular, melodic garage rock that can’t be replicated.
Can’t Miss: “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know”, “Rode”, “Pierce the Morning Rain”
Can’t Hit: “Almost Fare”, “What Was That”, “See It On Your Side”