Four years ago, something exceptional happened to alternative rock: Dinosaur Jr. reunited. Fans had their reservations, sure, but after a handful of intimate shows throughout ’05 and ’06, hardly anyone could complain — other than for a lack of hearing. Throughout the tour, J Mascis dug deep, brushing off everything from rarities and b-sides to ’90s mainstream hits. When it came time for new material, the guys delivered one of the best albums of their career, Beyond. Packed with distortion and familiar yelps, the three managed to keep things less boggy and more poppy. Two years later, they’re doing it again on Farm.
Don’t let the stoner-esque album cover deceive you, Mascis and friends tip the bucket and just let it spill, branching out until there’s hardly anywhere else to go. Opener “Pieces” wallops on, thanks to Murph’s thunderclap drumming, and Mascis weaves the lead guitar parts around as if its a proton zapper a la Ghostbusters. There’s something fragile here, a mood that hearkens back to 1988’s Bug. It’s sludgy, but optimistically sludgy, if that makes sense. The rhythm section, strengthened by Lou Barlow’s bass lines, never derail or sink too far. In other words, it’s just not as depressing anymore, and that’s a good thing.
That’s not to say it’s all happy go lucky, either. Mascis sounds depressed and angsty, even at age 43, but he’s hardly dwelling on it. On obvious downers like “I Don’t Wanna Go There”, Mascis mumbles apathetically, “And I’m gone, I’m gone,” but follows it up with more humble lines, “And the world it really needs you, now I see it.” This idea of self discovery runs rampant here. Throughout the bubbly “I Want You To Know”, he begs, “Hey, did I let it go/Stay with me, tell me if it shows/I want you to know.” Ageism or not, it’s not just his silver hair that’s hallmarking his crumbled youth these days.
Pushing 50 or not, Mascis, Barlow and Murph know how to squeal the right noises from their respected instruments to create sonic destruction. Whereas they once used it for aggressive release, especially on 1987’s You’re Living All Over Me, they know how to carve traditional pop songs out of it. “Over It” drains the listener with cluttered tinny drumming, scummy basslines, and guitar lines that once belonged to Peter Frampton, only now they’ve been run over and spit on. The result? The album’s most accessible tune, and most entertaining one, for that matter.
There are a couple tracks here that mirror those off of Beyond, though this works wonders for the album. “Friends” rings in like “Been There All The Time”, but it’s so speedy and fun that there’s little time to pout. “See You” vaguely resembles that of “We’re Not Alone”, but Mascis loves that key, so let him have it. What hurts Farm, instead, is that some songs stick around too long. “I Don’t Wanna Go There” is about three minutes too long, “Said The People” chips away too much, and “Plans” wanders a bit. Much of this lends itself to Mascis’ knack for jamming. He’s hardly Slash, this isn’t a Phish record, but he somewhat treats it that way. Towards the second half of this album, Mascis’ solos wear thin. There’s no element of surprise, there’s a lack of punch, and what’s worse, they start to sound the same.
What this album could have used is some light trimming, or perhaps some cutting. A couple of tracks come off more as a chore than a listen. “Your Weather” is a clunker, borrowing too much from Pearl Jam, and the album’s last three and a half minutes of “Imagination Blind” tread water. In its parts, however, Farm shines, excelling over the middle tier of the band’s discography by capitalizing on this spunky, almost Pavement-like swagger that made Beyond such a success. What’s remarkable here is that these three continue to put out killer songs that never sound embarrassing, unlike some other recently reunited efforts (2007’s The Weirdness, comes to mind). The truth is, nobody expects a perfect album from the gang, and that’s fine. With Farm, Dinosaur Jr. stays above average, but with that slacker mentality that prefers Slurpees and skateboards over awards and accolades. Whatever, man.