Dinosaur Jr. has been making loud, quirky alt rock on and off for more than thirty years. Their new album, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, doesn’t reinvent the band’s sound; however, it does contain some of their best work. This is a natural extension of a long career, not just a cute or tired continuation of it.
Dinosaur’s sound has typically centered on frontman J Mascis’s strained falsetto and his heavy and distorted but often melodic guitar work. Lyrics tend toward the abstract and soulful, and therefore songs come off either as maudlin and vague or heartfelt and poignant, depending on the strength of the songwriting therein; there are examples from each category on the album.
The first two songs on the album, “Goin Down” and “Tiny” are on the poppier end of the spectrum for Dinosaur—both utilize power chords pretty extensively and feature some of Dinosaur’s catchier refrains (“Are you with me/ Are you with me when I’m gone?” on “Goin Down” is a memorable standout). While Dinosaur has done pop-punk very well before (see 2007’s “Over It”) these two songs both feel a little easy. The guitar solos—which throughout the band’s discography have been these squealing, energetic little monsters, a staple of the band’s sound—in particular feel a little phoned in. If a poppy opening was what the band was going for, one very polished track would have done a lot more work than two mediocre ones. “Goin Down” does have a seemingly autobiographical bent to it: “I got more to say/ I got more to prove you wrong” could be a message to the band’s fans, asking them to follow J and the band in a new direction—or just be around to witness it.
Luckily, much of the rest of the album is considerably deeper and more interesting. The guitar work on “Been a Part” is far more intricate than the two earlier tracks, and the lyrics tell a more gripping story. “Come on and be a part of me” is the refrain, and the lyrics center around a need to connect in a meaningful, almost transcendent way. “I Told Everyone” is similarly strong compositionally (featuring a really energetic, slightly twangy guitar riff), and also has themes hovering around strained connection; here J tells a story of the power of oversharing—because the narrator’s “told everyone,” the people who “made [him] nervous” can’t hurt him anymore.
“Love Is…” is one of two tracks on the album sung by the band’s bassist, Lou Barlow, the other being “Left/Right,” the album’s closer. Barlow and Mascis’s clashing egos led to the breakup of Dinosaur Jr.’s original 80’s lineup (until their ‘07 reunion), so it’s nice to see some sharing of the limelight. Barlow’s sweet, clear vocals stand in pretty jarring contrast to J’s fuzzy falsetto. The lyrics are also somewhere near the border between earnest and cringe-worthy (“Love is the law,” the last line in the chorus, feels like a little much). “Left/Right,” the closer, seems to blend the band’s typical sound with Lou’s vocal style more adeptly; Lou sounds world-weary but hopeful, and the subdued guitar matches him tonally. That said, it seems unnecessary to feature Barlow as a singer/songwriter, as the band already has a very well-established sound (especially since these tracks aren’t even that great—just different).
The later tracks are among my favorites on the album. “I Walk for Miles” has a wonderfully heavy guitar riff at its center, and J Mascis’s high whining vocals over it provide a nice contrast. “Lost All Day” features a twangy, irresistible guitar riff and a painful tale of lost love. “Knocked around” is even more pained, starting with a slow, muted guitar riff that almost sounds like it belongs in a late-night honky-tonk. This builds into another fast and hooky section that features one of the best guitar solos on the album.
Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not is more than just a quaint reunion project. There are some fairly generic tracks on here, and some of the vaguest lyrics J Mascis has ever written. However, there are also songs on here where Dinosaur Jr. is at full force, sounding better than they did twenty (or thirty) years ago. It seems like the album could have been cut down to a punchier, more efficient six-track EP, but as it stands, Give a Glimpse of What You’re Not is a solid addition to the band’s discography.