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By the time Dinosaur Jr came to record their third album, 1988’s Bug, band relations were far from peachy. Afraid of rejection and keen to store work for his Sebadoh project, bassist Lou Barlow did not contribute any songs, and for the one tune on which he did sing lead, J Mascis sadistically persuaded him to scream the line “Why, why don’t you like me?” for so many takes that he began coughing up blood. Barlow was not exactly a silent martyr: he also antagonised his bandmates to the extent that drummer Murph once tried to attack him while sleepwalking and Mascis tried to attack him while fully awake, in the middle of a gig.
I Bet On Sky is the third Dinosaur long-player since the original line-up reformed in 2005. Taking things one step at a time and hesitant to speculate on how long it might last, the group seem to have settled in to some kind of stable, functional and productive way of working together, in spite of the potential disruptions of J’s numerous side-projects, Lou’s similarly resurrected Sebadoh, and whatever it is that Murph does with his spare time. No blood was coughed up in the making of this album.
Yes, the usual Dinosaur elements are all present and correct: Lou’s distinctive bass style and Murph’s power drumming complementing J’s blistering guitar and lazy drawl (pleasingly lazier and drawlier than ever). The classic sound has also been faintly expanded. Keyboards show up every now and again, most noticeably on opener ‘Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know’. Acoustic guitars add to the backing of the summery ‘Almost Fare’. There is a preponderance of slow-to-mid-paced tunes, with soft traces of melancholy, more akin to J’s recent solo album than his jam-tastic Heavy Blanket venture. Even the more chugging tracks, such as single ‘Watch The Corners’, possess a sadder and lighter air than prior rocking numbers.
Scattered among the loose downers, there are still the punkier-riffed ‘Pierce The Morning Rain’, a closing track which does little to bolster Mascis’ attempts to downplay the Neil Young influence on his music as it so closely resembles some lost Crazy Horse epic, and ‘I Know It Oh So Well’ which is up there with J’s best ever songs; like a breezy, sublime slacker anthem from 1993 that you had completely forgotten about.
If Lou’s cuts on the last couple of records were more subtly neurotic, ‘Rude’ and ‘Recognition’ hit a level of Barlowianism at its absolute purist; oversensitive, paranoid, vulnerable, and downright lovely. Lines like “Look what I’ve done, didn’t make the best of that one / I arrived feeling sure and ended up all insecure” may verge on self-parody, but they also remind you why you fell in love with his writing in the first place.
I Bet On Sky is reminiscent of the lighter direction that Dinosaur Jr embraced after the departure of Lou and then Murph in the mid- to late-nineties on recordings such as (the underrated) Without A Sound. Some listeners may lament this retreat from the hefty barrage of sound that was 2009’s Farm, but it is crucial that a band such as this progresses and varies itself, and it is somewhat adorable that J is loosely retreading the road that his group took beforehand, only this time he is doing it the right way, with his pals Lou and Murph along for the ride.
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