I've been into Dinosaur Jr. since 1989, when I was eight. That's right, I'm cooler than y'all. Okay, truthfully I got into them super late, like 2005 late. Allow me to explain (or skip the next paragraph).
My wife was running our alma mater's radio station in the spring of 2005 and one day she brought home a Merge sampler of their Dinosaur Jr. re-releases; the CD had three songs from each of their first three albums. I was aware of the band but not sure what they sounded like. As the first song "Freak Scene" came rockin' me outta the speakers, I realized I had loved this song forever. When I was a little skater kid I had a Santa Cruz Speed Freaks video (with that rad screaming blue hand on the cover) that featured at least three songs from Bug (I believe it was an all-SST soundtrack including fIREHOSE and I think Meat Puppets and Saccharine Trust, among others), and I loved those Dino songs when I was eight but didn't have the wherewithal to figure out who played them. Back to 2004; as this Merge comp plays, all of a sudden it was like some cheesy romantic comedy where I'm reunited with my long-lost love. So I rapidly bought Dino's back catalogue. What's the point of this story? I like stories. I guess the point is that I got into them 'for real' at the perfect time because I didn't have to wait long before they reunited and put out new material.
Still, I almost didn't get Beyond. The chances of a reunion resulting in good new material are slim. Mission of Burma did it…and that's about it. But I got it anyway and DAMN. Shit was good. The original lineup sounded tight yet classic Dino, and from interviews it seems that maturity (they are frickin' old dudes now) and knowing their roles within the group has them working well together and cranking out tunes as easy as during their early years. Even though all the press releases focus on the original trifecta of albums, musically Beyond sounded more like Dino's major label work in that it relied less on noise and lovably-obnoxious guitar tones. I was fine with that because Mascis' songwriting and guitar work is better than ever, yet we get back Barlow's fuzzy bass chordings and a couple of his tunes per album (plus his fun live persona), and Murph's hard-hitting (but Mascis-penned) drumwork. To sum things up, let me remind you that Beyond was my #1 album of 2007 for Punknews. I'm 400 words into this beast of a review; let's talk about Farm.
"Over It," besides having a kickass video, is a kickass song. It clamps the jumper cables to an album that, thus far, was kinda chillin.' That wah-pedal lead will be in your head for god's sake, though J only gives it to you twice in the song. The chorus is propelled by off-beat chord changes underneath Mascis' whole note croon, and the fill-dominated bridge is just icing. "See You" is my other fave, struttin' out-the-gate with an immediate guitar solo over the jangly chords. It bounces like "Start Choppin'" and I love Murph's surprisingly-fitting fast hi-hat work in the chorus. The bridge breaks down to let J's guitar line breathe and exhale into twangy chords. "Friends" has an awesome fast-pickin' guitar lead and J getting out of his lackadaisical vocal range for a catchy chorus.
The epic "Said the People" is slacker rock exemplified, with clean, warbly guitar chords and Mascis singing in his long-gray-haired creakiest tone, "Of all the people to let me down…" While the chorus is about as close as Dino could get to being called 'majestic,' the song doesn't change much during its near eight-minute run, though the solo wails, of course. I prefer "I Don't Wanna Go There" -- this one getting over the eight-minute hump -- and sure it dwells on its strong points and has a long-ass solo (who's complaining?). But it also has a nice metal-ish chugging breakdown before hitting you hard again and later crawling to a sloppy halt. Barlow's "Imagination Blind" is a cool sludgy track but ends the record in an odd way; I would have gone out huge with "I Don't Wanna Go There."
Every track I've mentioned thus far is track 6 or later. The track listing seems flipped to me or just out of order. Not to say the first half is bad in any way, but the record starts a bit on the slow side. Not soft -- just slow. "Pieces" is a great song in steeped in Dino traditions, but doesn't hit as hard as an opener as "Almost Ready" (seems like more of a track 2 to me). The swaying 6/8 "Oceans in the Way" grooves, and when it slows briefly before the ending, Mascis tears into the most air-guitar-worthy solo on the album. "Plans" is a sweet slow burn that has tempo changes back and forth á la "Feel the Pain" (but not as drastic). "Your Weather" changes the feel of the record when it hits, and showcases the main reason why Dinosaur Jr. needed Lou Barlow: variety. "I Want You to Know" is the 'hit' of the first half though, and feels like a comfy old shoe already, having been released on their MySpace awhile back.
Overall, Farm is a more laid-back groovin' record where Beyond fired on all cylinders pretty much constantly ("I Got Lost" being the obvious exception). It makes Farm not as immediate but ultimately just as rewarding of an album. A track listing change is in order, but that's being ultra-picky. I'm just ecstatic to have my childhood pals back with some new tunes. Maybe I should get my cobweb-coated board back out and make this my summer `09 skate soundtrack…