Review: Dinosaur Jr.’s “Farm”

Jun 24, 2009 6:22pm

  Have you ever gotten your socks blown clear off by a rock record?  Have you ever had your expectations not only met but exceeded to the point where you were left dumbfounded with your mouth hanging wide open?  I now have! Dinosaur Jr.’s new album “Farm” is not only by far the best album of their twenty-five year career, but it also is quite possibly one of the finest rock albums ever recorded.  At the very least, it’s the best straight-ahead rock record of the last couple of years.  No joke. I am not exaggerating.  It’s an amazing record, packed with a hard-charging, sonic-combustion level of force.  There’s positively no filler and it’s a surprisingly melodic set of songs, even when sung in leader J Mascis’ still half-asleep-sounding rasp.  It succeeds all around as a flawless exercise in power-chord rockdom.   After being dormant for some time, in 2007, J Mascis reinstated the band name he hadn’t recorded under in ten years.  To top it off, he managed to get the band’s full original lineup back together!  This was quite a feat because the three of them hadn’t recorded together in about twenty years.  So, their 2007 record, “Beyond” was not only a return to action, but it was also the return of the original band itself.  “Beyond” was a great, well-received record but in comparison to “Farm,” it seems like a mere sketch.  “Farm” is the band’s ninth studio album, but only the fifth with the original lineup and never has the band sounded tighter or more cohesive.  Bassist Lou Barlow, having spent the nineties honing his other projects like Sebadoh and Folk Implosion, adds thunder to the bottom of the mix as well as some vocal assistance.  Murph, the drummer still packs quite a wallop behind his kit, giving each song a strong and sturdy backbone.  As a guitarist, Mascis has never sounded better and more rock-god-worthy.  He delivers blistering, chugging, scorching solos throughout.  He deserves to be recognized in a big way for his accomplishments here.  This album slaps you awake and keeps you reeling in its blissful layers of dense fuzz.  This new awakening is nice for this much respected but never huge  Amherst, Massachusetts band who are probably best known for their hit, “Feel The Pain.”  “Farm” should appeal to those who took pleasure in listening to Pearl Jam at their peak.  It’s every bit as good a record as “Ten” or “Vs.” and Mascis’ deep, exhausted mutter sounds vaguely like Eddie Vedder’s bellow.  In fact, I would bet Pearl Jam were probably influenced a little by Dinosaur Jr.’s early records.  This new turn of events couldn’t be sweeter.  “Farm” is the kind of late-period revitalization that you always hope for but hardly ever actually get!   This album is immediate.  From the beginning of the opener, “Pieces,” it is evident that all elements are perfectly in place.  Like many songs on here, it enters blazing.  The power-chords are accented by almost soulful, melodic touches. There’s a very poignant tone of what sounds like sad regret in Mascis’ voice as he sings about “the pieces of our love.”  Throughout “Farm,” he is truly reinvigorated.   ”I Want You To Know” is a chugging rocker which the band gave away as a free download a couple months back.  The second I heard it, I had the vaguest of inklings that this album was going to be special.  I’m glad my instincts were correct.  The track’s highlight is Mascis’ off-kilter, but spot-on and razor-sharp guitar solo.  This is legendary!  ”Ocean In The Way” is at times almost a hard-rocking waltz with Murph delivering the occasional tempo-shifting drum fill.  “I’ve been out looking for somewhere to hide. / There’s been a mix-up somewhere deep inside,” Mascis sings, sounding gloriously bummed-out, while Barlow and Murph back him up with an admirable level of sonic liquidity.   On the mellower, but no less intense, “Plans,” Mascis delivers one of his best, most indelible tunes to date.  This would make a glorious single, with its insistent melody and its gentle, gripping power.  “I’ve got nothing left to be. / Do you have something for me?” Mascis sings as if he’s packing every word with his own authentic pain.  I’d use the word emo to describe this, but that term has been ruined by poseurs with faux-hawks griping about trivial exploits.  This song is emo in the true, best sense of the word.  The atmosphere set up by the opening riff is velvety and lush.  It’s a sea of sound.  I know many unsigned bands would kill for a set of riffs that sound this strong and heartfelt.   Barlow takes the lead next on “Your Weather.”  His voice is more traditionally pleasing compared to Mascis’ sandpaper approach, but both men are equally captivating front-men.  Mascis’ delivery-style however is uniquely iconic! Here, Barlow, over a moody, insistent beat with a repeating stutter built into its structure, sings mysterious lines like “Her light they never shine on your filthy wall.”  When the chorus kicks in, there are some nice, vaguely psychedelic vocal harmonies which make the track sound like a hard-edged song Love might have recorded.  It’s pleasantly retro.   ”Over It” is the single.  It’s a bursting, melodic mass of guitar squeals with an appealing melody.  In a different time, this might be a mainstream hit.  It still might be now.  It makes a song like “Feel The Pain” sound painstakingly simple.  There’s melodic depth here.   ”Friends” is hard-rocking, indie-rock gold with its authoritative beginning.  Again, Mascis on guitar is this record’s MVP with his dynamic soloing abilities.  Lyrically, as always, he comes off as mysterious and almost humorously cartoonish when he declares, “In my defense. / I feel intense.  / It makes no sense.”  There’s a vaguely Paul Westerberg-ian country-rock vibe present on this song.   ”Said The People” clocks in at over seven minutes and shows the band’s true strengths.  Like “Plans,” it’s mellower and more atmospheric.  Age and maturity have given Dinosaur Jr. the tools to explore and wallow in their sprawl.  The level of intense emotion and heft present in this track’s delivery is something they really couldn’t deliver back in the mid eighties.  Mascis sounds heartbroken and vulnerable here.  It’s a pose that fits him well.  The tempo picks up for the explosive, “There’s No Here.”  Again, there’s a driving moodiness at work here.  Like the best and most accessible  work of Sonic Youth, this is meant to be used at the center of something staggering.  It’s darkly moving and propulsive.  It gets brighter during the chorus and that only adds to its appeal.   ”See You” sounds downright happy in comparison.  It’s pretty sunny-sounding jam-rock.  Again, this album needs to be picked up and heard by a younger audience.  Like many other tracks on “Farm,” this song will please many.  If this album clicks with the right power-players and gets some decent exposure in the right places, it could be a really big hit.   ”I Don’t Wanna Go There” is nearly nine minutes in length, but even in its extended form, it’s single-worthy.  It stands as one of the most defining tracks of this record and of Dinosaur Jr.’s career.  If you want the best single track demonstrating what this band is about in 2009, this is your best bet.  The chugging, churning guitar solo is the ultimate capper!  The traditional album closes with another Barlow tune, “Imagination Blind.”  If you’ve ever liked any of Barlow’s other work, you should like this as well.  Like Mascis (and Murph for that matter) he’s really outdone himself on this record.  The refrain in this closing track basically says that the band knows that they’ve tapped into something.  “We want to leave behind what can be held. / We’d loved to hold the key and keep it to ourselves.”  Frankly, I’m glad they chose to share.   It’s recommended that if you pick up this album (and if this description sounds good to you, you should do so, immediately!) get the deluxe edition with a bonus disc with four more songs.  All of which are equally worthy.  They put their own spin on Elyse’s rare, psychedelic nugget, “Houses,” as well as the Zombies’ “Whenever You’re Ready.”  The two other songs are Mascis originals.  “Creepies” is an instrumental work-up and “Show” is a tremendously humorous one minute exploration of a very simple idea.  If you are a hardcore Dinosaur Jr. fan, these are necessary additions.   I cannot say fully how amazing this record is and fully do it justice. It’s a classic. I hope when and if you hear it you like it, too.  If there’s any justice in this world, this record will explode Dinosaur Jr. into rock’s mainstream.  “Farm” is indeed a statement of this band’s importance.  I was a passing listener and collector of their work before this record.  Now I’m a fan!  It’s simply astounding!  At their first chance, they belong in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!  Enough said!

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