Dinosaur Jr

There is nothing quite like a Dinosaur Jr. album. The best ones are always recognizable from the first notes. And even though J tries to trip us up by smearing "Don't Pretend You Didn't Know" with keyboards, it's clear from the moment he starts his vocals that this is the one and only Dinosaur Jr., long reigning kings of Amherst, Massachusetts (and anywhere else they choose to hang their toques).

I Bet on Sky is the third Dinosaur Jr. album since the original trio – J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph – reformed in 2005. And, crazily, it marks the band's 10th studio album since their debut on Homestead Records in 1985. Back in the '80s, if anyone has suggested that these guys would be performing and recording at such a high level 27 years later, they would have been laughed out of the tree fort. The trio's early shows were so full of sonic chaos, such a weird blend of aggression and catatonia that we all assumed they would flame out fast. But the joke was on us.

The trio has taken everything they've learned from the various projects they tackled over the years, and poured it directly into their current mix. J's guitar approaches some of its most unhinged playing here, but there's a sense of instrumental control that matches the sweet murk of his vocals (not that he always remembers to exercise control on stage, but that's another milieu). This is head-bobbing riff-romance at the apex. Lou's basswork shows a lot more melodicism now as well, although his two songs on I Bet on Sky retain the jagged rhythmic edge that has so often marked his work. And Murph…well, he still pounds the drums as hard and as strong as a pro wrestler, with deceptively simple structures that manage to interweave themselves perfectly with his bandmates' melodic explosions.

After submerging myself in I Bet on Sky, it's clear that the album is a true and worthy addition to the Dinosaur Jr. discography. It hews close enough to rock formalism to please the squares. Yet it is brilliantly imprinted with the trio's magical equation, which is a gift to the rest of us. For a combo that began as anomalous fusion of hardcore punk and pop influences, Dinosaur Jr. have proven themselves to be unlikely masters of the long game. Their new album is a triumph of both form and function. And it augurs well for their future trajectory. If I were prone to wagering, I'd say their best days are yet ahead of them. And yeah. I would bet the sky on it.
--Byron Coley

It's been suggested-by fans, detractors, even by the band's founder-that Shearwater and whatever we call underground/indie/whatever-rock in this part of the century are not an obvious fit. And that's true. So much of what we hear these days (the lousy stuff, anyway) is willfully insular; Jonathan Meiburg's songs, by contrast, have constantly tackled bigger questions and been propelled by massive musical ambitions.

We're in an era in which minimalism and lower-than-low-tech have come in vogue. By contrast, Shearwater's recordings-the epic "Island Arc" trilogy of Palo Santo, Rook and The Golden Archipelago in particular-have been expansive (some might say bombastic) in a fashion like none of their contemporaries. Meiburg-presumably unfamiliar with the adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it"-has opted to ditch an approach that paid huge artistic dividends over his last three Matador albums for a record that seems shockingly direct, immediate and intensely personal. He's no stranger to lush, crafted recordings, but this one sounds like no prior Shearwater incarnation. And please, don't mistake that for a suggestion this is anyone's notion of a traditional, singer-songwriter album. "Immaculate" and "Breaking the Yearlings" are inventive and confident in a manner that would humble most new artists, let alone Shearwater's few veteran peers. "Insolence" is (take your pick) an unsparing bit of self-reflection or an evisceration of someone else; either way, the song covers a staggering amount of sonic territory in the space of six minutes plus. No disrespect whatsoever is intended to Meiburg's sometimes-Austin neighbors Spoon when I call "Believing Makes It Easy" a song that would rank amongst that band's finest had they come up with it instead.

Though it's possibly a wild projection to claim a few years of bouncing through various band lineups, record labels and places of residence have led to a radical reboot, I'm a big believer in citing circumstantial evidence and letting the jury figure it out for themselves. Someone's bound to label this Shearwater's transitional album, but to these ears, it sounds like a thrilling artistic rebirth. Just give 'em the fucking Grammy already!

-Gerard Cosloy, Austin, TX (November 2011)

More about Animal Joy:
Animal Joy was produced and recorded by Danny Reisch in Austin, Texas, and mixed by Peter Katis (The National, Interpol, Jonsi, Frightened Rabbit) in Bridgeport, Connecticut; sessions took place through most of 2011. The album was mastered by Greg Calbi in NYC.

Principal players were Jonathan Meiburg (vocals, guitar, and piano), Kimberly Burke (upright and electric bass) and Thor Harris (drums)-all members of Shearwater since 1999-along with guest performers Andy Stack (of Wye Oak) on guitar, keyboard, and saxophone, Scott Brackett on keyboards, Cully Symington on additional drums, Sam Lipman on clarinet, and Elaine Barber on harp. No strings or glockenspiels were touched during the making of this album.

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