Dinosaur Jr.’s discography is an intriguingly consistent journey. Spanning over thirty-five years with multiple line-up changes, they’re a band who, while consistently remaining outside of serious mainstream considerations, grapple with themselves and their music with utter awareness and precision.
Sweep It Into Space, which has come after the longest break between albums since their ten year hiatus over the millennium, has a more rhythmic and melodic approach to their previous offerings. The fuzzy Orange amped cacophony is largely absent and has been replaced with a more driven focus that exposes their intricacy and enables a more transparent insight into their sound. While the group’s output has always been oriented in a mellow pre-Grunge emotion, there seems to be a more identifiable airiness and freedom, too.
Lead single ‘I Ran Away’, for instance, nods to the tenderness of late ’80s Cure, but this isn’t like their mutating cover of ‘Just Like Heaven’. The deadpan vocals and hallmark solos from J. Mascis remain, but behind them lies a wonderful backing, almost floating in an atmosphere of sunny carelessness. The quickly-picked riffs also call back to the beautiful ventures of R.E.M in their stunning early albums.
This departure can be explained by the production and influence of Kurt Vile, whose direction can be heard in the similarly shimmering ‘Garden’. The tempo is slowed down and bassist Lou Barlow’s vocals are delivered impeccably. It’s an exciting, rarely-witnessed side to Dinosaur Jr. which, as they mature further, you’d imagine will be explored more and more in future releases.
Recording for Sweep It Into Space kicked off in the pre-pandemic paradise of 2019, perhaps owing to this sense of freedom that exerts itself so invitingly, much like 1991’s Green Mind, an album that signalled a move away from the wild distortion of predecessors Bug and You’re Living All Over Me. Elsewhere, ‘Walking To You’ sees the trio recruit industrial synths and turn them into an alluringly subtle aspect of the backing, while opening track ‘I Ain’t’ is perhaps the most “classic” of the collection and exhibits Dinosaur Jr. at their most reaching.
Regardless of the changes in texture and instrumentation, Sweep It Into Space is still unmistakable and essential Dinosaur Jr. At its core sits the same bedroom-rock sentiment that ran through the releases of the ’80s and ’90s which held soft nihilist lyricism and more powerfully optimistic hooks. And while some fans may yearn for the total return of all-out amplified explosiveness, it’s unlikely that many will be disappointed by their new ventures.
Best Tracks: I Ain’t , I Ran Away