Dinosaur Jr.‘s near-30 year track record of excellence is impressive, but not unusual. What is unusual is that right in the middle of those 30 years, the band had an entire decade of inaction while J Mascis, the one consistent band member, put the group on hiatus. If the band had been put to bed after 1997’s Hand it Over, they would have left behind a fine discography. However, in 2007, the original lineup of Mascis, Lou Barlow, and Emmett “Murph” Murphy returned with Beyond and it was like the band never went away.
This year’s Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not delivered more of the same, and from a critical standpoint, a tight discography like this makes it hard to single out a ton of “deep cuts” since there really aren’t any underrated releases that fell under the radar. Nevertheless, with much effort and contemplation, we were able to put together this playlist of choice Dinosaur Jr. cuts that deserve a bit more attention.
“Little Fury Things”
At first, the band was just called Dinosaur, and that was the title for their self-titled debut in 1985. In 1987, they also released You’re Living All Over Me under that name, but a lawsuit led them to change it to Dinosaur Jr. — which is a better name for a band — and the album was recalled. It was then re-released as, technically, the first Dinosaur Jr. album, and it’s an influential and excellent album. “Little Fury Things” is the opening track and it’s a mix of raging, screaming vocals. Their sound would develop over the years, getting a little cleaner and crisper, but “Little Fury Things” is still a dynamic, almost brutal outing for the band.
J Mascis is an amazing guitarist, perhaps one of the best of all time. Truthfully, there is a reason that Spin magazine once proclaimed him a god in the vein of Eric Clapton. “Freak Scene” will forever stand as a testament to that, and it may be his guitar masterpiece. However, the song goes well beyond simply being a vehicle for Mascis to tear it up on the guitar. It’s a well-crafted song in total, almost sing-songy, despite the fact it’s fairly miserable, content wise. Of course, as Dinosaur Jr. went on, this would become par for the course for the band. Even if you don’t agree with Pitchfork declaring “Freak Scene,” “probably indie rock’s greatest guitar performance,” this is just a catchy song that will worm its way into your brain.
“Not You Again”
“Not You Again” doesn’t appear on a Dinosaur Jr. album. It’s on a weird compilation album called Whatever’s Cool with Me that includes a couple of live songs and a cover of a David Bowie song. That might make it hard to find, or it would have in a bygone era before the internet made everything available, but it’s definitely worth seeking out as one of the band’s best songs. An economical song that comes in at under three minutes, “Not You Again” packs a lot into a small package thanks, in part, to another notable guitar solo. The final verse of the song puts the emphasis on Mascis’ vocals over his virtuoso guitar work, but it serves the song well. Plus, any song that ends with the line, “Sorry I f*cked it all up again” is going to resonant with just about everybody at some point.
Barlow was gone by the time of Where You Been, which is kind of awkward, because it is possibly (maybe even probably) Dinosaur Jr.’s best pre-hiatus album. It includes “Start Choppin’,” their biggest hit, which is a good song, but also one of the Dinosaur Jr. songs pretty much everybody has heard alongside “Feel the Pain.” “Out There” is the almost six-minute-long opening track to the album. Long songs are a staple of Dinosaur Jr.’s catalog, but it earns that length and Mascis’ unique and somewhat croaky voice works powerfully in this song.
Staying on Where You Been, “Get Me” is something of a ballad. There’s plenty of awesome guitar work, but it’s a slower song and a contemplative one that seemingly tells a story of heartbreak. The fact that Mascis is joined by female vocalist Tiffany Anders only adds to the power of the song. Dinosaur Jr. has never been known for their positive, peppy songs, but this one is even more melodramatic than most. On top of being one of the better ballads, perhaps the best ballad, Dinosaur Jr. ever recorded, the music video features a young Kevin Corrigan! That has nothing to do with the song, but it is a fun fact, and the video definitely captures the spirit at the heart of the song.
“I Don’t Think So”
Without a Sound lists Mascis’ contributions as “drums, guitar, producer, keyboards, vocals” and he wrote all the songs, so this was basically a solo album under the Dinosaur Jr. name. The album opens with “Feel the Pain,” which has a music video of some note, but that song is followed up with “I Don’t Think So,” another great song that’s also a bit of a bummer. It’s pretty much summed up in the lyric, “Could it be she cried for me?/ I don’t think so.” The song still has a kind of energy to it, though, so you can tap your toes whilst thinking about a lost love.
Beyond was the first time that the original lineup of Dinosaur Jr. had been together in almost 20 years. “Almost Ready” is the first song on the album. You would have no idea they had spent a moment apart listening to it. Watching them perform it live at the time, given the significance of it for indie rock fans, was truly something special. It’s a great song that puts the pedal to the metal and never lets up.
“Ocean in the Way”
Farm is possibly Dinosaur Jr.’s best album, full stop, even if at 12 tracks and 61 minutes, it might feel a bit indulgent to the uninitiated. “Ocean in the Way” does not sound like a lot of the other songs on this list. It’s almost like it comes from another band. Except for the fact, of course, that there is something beautifully sad and longing about the lyrics, which is a staple of the band’s oeuvre. It’s just that, for once, they let the music slow down to match the emotions of the lyrics, while still sounding big and forceful.
“Over It” has a really good, funny music video that sort of pokes fun at the fact that, by 2009, Mascis’ long hair had gone white and the guys in the band were all forty-somethings. “Over It” is a great song featuring more fantastic Mascis guitar work and another dose of Mascis’ increasingly (and fantastically) croaky voice. The excellent bass and drum work on “Over It” should not be overlooked either. This song really has the whole trio firing on all cylinders. It feels weird to say that a song released so late into a band’s lifespan could be considered a gateway song, but nevertheless, if you haven’t listened to Dinosaur Jr., you might want to start here.
“Watch the Corners”
While a song from Dinosaur Jr.’s new album may make a list such as this sometime in the future, it is a bit early for that. So the last song we’ve chosen is “Watch the Corners” from I Bet on Sky. It’s pretty epic for a five-minute song, and it features everything we’ve come to expect from the band over the years. Mascis is in full force, with Barlow and Murph supporting the frontman work with aplomb. We may have lost a lot of years when these guys stopped making music together, but it’s still great to have what we do.