Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review #93: Dinosaur Jr. - Dinosaur (1985)


Year: 1985
Genre: Punk Rock, Folk Rock
Post-Punk, Psychedelic, Hardcore
Homestead Records
40 Minutes (Long)
My Rating:

A few days ago, you probably heard my story on Deep Wound -- a Massachusetts hardcore band that existed during the early '80s... well, you also probably knew that Lou Barlow and J Mascis were in that band too! Well, when J Mascis went to college, his friend Gerard Cosloy introduced him to a more wide variety of tastes in music like the band Dream Syndicate. Soon after, Gerard dropped out of college to start his own record label called Homestead Records, which would release many high-quality punk records during the '80s. Gerard Cosloy told J that if he could record an album, then Homestead would release it. Accepting the offer, J Mascis invited Lou Barlow, Murph, and Charlie Nakijama to be the bassist in his band and began writing songs. They were unlike what Lou had heard before -- instead of exemplifying the cliches of hardcore punk, it was something totally different... more intricate melodies, not nearly as fast, a large folk and country touch... it was a totally new sound. The band MOGO played its first show in September 1984. The show ultimately erupted in Charlie's anti-cop rant, which caused him to be kicked out. The group renamed itself "Dinosaur" (a few years later legal issues would cause them to change the name once more). Dinosaur recorded their debut album in a home studio in Northampton, Massachusetts. Let's see what it sounded like...

1. Forget the Swan
Starts with what sounds like a typical punk beat and bassline in the first few seconds -- but then that facade quickly becomes more little guitar-leads, acoustic guitars, folky note-progressions. It's really a beautiful sound. Lou Barlow sings here. Lots of cool guitar effects. In the middle you can hear a phaser shifting back and forth, yielding on a beautiful solo that ends a bit too soon.

2. Cats in a Bowl
Lou's singing again. The beat is fast, in a neat country-punk style. There's an awesome slow part after the chorus to even things out and keep it all interesting.

3. The Leper
I believe this might actually be the first the recorded world has ever heard of J Mascis's voice! It's a pretty nice voice... the lyrics might not necessarily be about a literal leper, but rather, a person who is a leper on society, as the lines "safest to wallow in my own esteem" and "my life is chosen to rape"... maybe not. Who knows? Great, beautiful guitar solos.

4. Does It Float
Y'know, when I look at the cover for this album, it's what I imagine where you'd be mentally while listening to this. Like, sitting in the field with a bunch of flowers with a happy sun and some guy with hat -- probably singing this song. It's a pretty good song, not quite as interesting as the ones before it... well, actually, right after I typed that, Lou Barlow SCREAMED and a layer of really distorted guitar shredded the whole damn song to... shreds... and then the song kind of seemed like it was over, as a soft, quiet tune was played... suddenly, the whole damn monster comes right fucking back at you at an even faster speed! It's wild!

5. Pointless
This one carries a seemingly more ominous behavior to it, as Lou (maybe it's J, actually) chants using creepy effects on his voice and awkwardly screams in the chorus "I'M STARRRRVING". The last third of the song is a little more relaxed and ironically happy.

6. Repulsion
Yay! It's J! Mascis! Despite the name, this song isn't very repulsive to me. This one's a distorted by folky song with J Mascis singing. It's wonderful. I can hardly believe what I'm listening to, really... I haven't heard half of these before. I'd probably say the same thing about any great new song I'd heard in retrospective. But yeah, it's a really pretty song. Something I'd wanna get stoned to. Or make love to. Or both. To. This song. "The world drips down like gravy" -- heheh.

7. Gargoyle
Sort of gothic-sounding. More Lou singing. Sorta fast beats. Combinations of 'lectric and 'coustic. Nice solos. It's actually the shortest song on the album, being just over two minutes long.

8. Severed Lips
This one's a little slower and more laid-back. J Mascis sings, as he strums more great tunes on the guitar. There's a wonderful electric guitar solo just after the middle of the song. It's a nice song.

9. Mountain Man
This song sounds the most like traditional hardcore punk in this album, except for maybe the abundance of guitar leads. Lou Barlow sings this song from the viewpoint of a mountain man, who has to "struggle to survive", as he fights grizzly bears, eats wild hares, befriends the other animals, and hides from where the other people live which according to the mountain man is "filled with lies". Towards the end of the song, the song changes up into an even faster part with a guitar solo as Lou yells and screams in the background, ending the song with the proclamation, "'CAUSE I'M A MOUNTAIN... MANN!!!!!"

10. Quest
After the rage and immaturity of "Mountain Man", we get this, another slow folky type of song. I love how they use the acoustic guitars in this. For some reason I really like the line "I love the caterpillars munching on the leaves". I had a pet caterpillar when I was a little kid. He was black and yellow so I named him "Mustard". J Mascis goes on to express his sympathy and ability to relate with bugs. Some parts have no distortion and are pretty quiet, other parts rev up the distortion for a few brief moments. The lyrics here are fucking gorgeous.

11. Bulbs of Passion
J Mascis gets to sing the last song. It's a slow, sort of grungy, sludgy song. Lou does background shouting vocals. It alternates between quiet parts and loud parts, but not really in a Nirvana way. Besides, the album came out two years before Nirvana even formed! In the middle, the song is sabotaged by some great slap-bass as a guitar solo writhes in pain trying to escape its brutal... slaps... to the face! Yeah.

One thing you'll definitely notice on this album is the fact that Lou Barlow is almost more prominent on this album as a vocalist than J Mascis is. This pretty much changed overnight when the next album was released in 1987 (so by 'overnight' I mean two years). Of course, as much as Lou wants to sing, it doesn't change the fact that J Mascis's guitar-work is arguably the best feature of this whole album. I could listen to that man write tunes all day. You could say the band's sound got slightly more "condensed" after this, but that's how it works for a lot of great bands anyways. Dinosaur's music would get louder, heavier, and noisier. Maybe a step back closer to hardcore, but a step forward in the sense that the Dinosaur Jr. spirit was still there -- they still had yet to write some of their greatest songs ever... "You're Living All Over Me" is one of my very favorite albums of all time. This album is really good too! I haven't heard half of these songs before I reviewed 'em, so you've just been reading the thoughts of a first-time listener! I STRONGLY suggest this album for EVERYONE. And my friend Aaron, who is a budding Dinosaur Jr. fan and needs to hear these songs because I think he might like them! Hope you liked my review, everyone.

Top 3 Favorites:
1. Repulsion

2. Quest

3. Forget the Swan

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