Dinosaur Jr.: “Farm”
When Dinosaur Jr. released Beyond in 2007, it may not have qualified as a full-fledged event, but it was at least a pretty big deal– one of those rare albums that is automatically something special for the mere fact that it exists, to say nothing of the actual music. After all, when the band split in the early 90s, it wasn’t exactly amicable; plus, the group had always exemplified slacker-rock, writing anthems of apathy and approaching their records with a certain kind of detachment. And yet, there they were again, in their original line-up, playing together not only with amiability, not even with enthusiasm, but– for the first time ever– with real, honest-to-goodness engagement. Like a band with something to prove.
That goes pretty far in explaining why Beyond was a truly great album– almost spectacularly so– but also why its 2009 follow-up, Farm, is merely very good. Two years ago, Dinosaur Jr. was declaring that they were back with a vengeance, ready to bang out what was arguably their finest album yet; and, given how well everything gelled on that album, it’s considerably less surprising to find them forging ahead, settling into a comfortable groove that suggests they’re simply glad to be playing together again.
And that’s the big thing that makes Farm a bit less thrilling than Beyond: A new level of comfort. Two years ago, they sounded hungry, whereas here they sound content. As a result, they don’t quite push themselves on Farm the way they did on Beyond, and so there’s nothing here that rocks with quite as much abandon as “Almost Ready,” struts with quite as much swagger as “Back to Your Heart,” or glistens with the same depth and texture as “Crumble.”
But with all that said, it’s still worth noting that even a slightly less than great Dinosaur Jr. album is still something to celebrate, because Dinosaur Jr. is still one of the great American bands. And if they want to crank out an album of sturdy, thoroughly enjoyable guitar rock of this caliber, I’m not going to complain too much, as it really is a joy to hear them play together, particularly when they lock into a groove, as they do here. And if Farm doesn’t hit the highs of Beyond, it must also be said that it’s a consistent album with no bad songs or filler.
J. Mascis has said in the past that Dinosaur Jr.’s songs are basically country songs cranked up really loud, which has the ring of truth to it: It certainly explains how these songs can sound so simple yet also be so visceral and addicting, which they certainly are. “Ocean in the Way” is a sad-sack ballad cranked up to heavy-metal volumes and turned into a true head-banger, particularly when the guitar solo kicks in, and “Over There” is a careening rocker that employs wah-wah effects to sound more complicated than it really is. The band still bangs out quick, hard-hitting punk-ish rock songs like nobody else, and they do stretch themselves a bit on the long, dense ballad “Places,” but the heart of the album lies in a couple of sprawling, no-frills jam sessions.
And that, of course, shows where the heart of the band is as well. They’re stretching out and digging in, finding their groove and settling in. They’ve got no one to impress, and they seem perfectly happy just to be jamming together. I’m okay with that. Not many bands can rock like Dinosaur Jr. can, and even fewer can play with this kind of chemistry and off-the-cutt interplay. So even if Farm is a minor achievement, it’s still majorly enjoyable.