DINOSAUR JR. – SWEEP IT INTO SPACE album review

DINOSAUR JR. – SWEEP IT INTO SPACE

Jagjaguwar, 2021

Alternative rock, indie rock

In general, the long career of Dinosaur Jr. is considered to be separated into three distinct eras. There are the early years where the band was a key figure in the beginnings of American alternative rock. Then came the major label years in the ’90s where the band saw the most commercial success on 1994’s Without a Sound. However, by the end of this run, singer and guitarist J Mascis would be the only remaining founding member and he would soon retire the Dinosaur Jr. name. But in 2005, Mascis would reunite with original bandmates Lou Barlow and Murph and Dinosaur Jr. would be reborn. This third era of the band would last longer than either of the two previous eras and, with the release of Sweep It Into Space, produce more material as well. And this 21st century version of Dinosaur Jr. is my Dinosaur Jr.

That’s not to say that I ignore or see no value in the band’s previous releases. The first albums are brilliant and Without a Sound was successful for a reason. But the third era was contemporary with my own growth and developing musical tastes. I was introduced to them through 2009’s Farm, a fantastic album which led me back to Beyond, and kept my ears open for I Bet On Sky and Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. This latest release fits nicely among them, and a big part of that is because the majority of the album is business as usual for the band.

That’s not a problem because Dinosaur Jr. is a band where business as usual is a good thing. Business as usual means fuzzy guitars, catchy hooks, tight rhythms, and ripping guitar solos. These elements are all present from the very beginning of album opener “I Ain’t” which also has lyrics about loneliness and alienation, another trademark of the band. Similar sounds and themes can be found throughout the album on tracks like “And Me” and “Hide Another Round.” There are some flirtations with other instruments and styles like the piano in “Take It Back” and the hard rock riffs of “I Met The Stones.” There’s also some additional production and instrumentation from Kurt Vile throughout the album, most notably the 12-string guitar on “I Ran Away.”

Sweep It Into Space isn’t without its faults, however. The track “Garden,” written by bassist Lou Barlow, who performs lead vocals, just doesn’t feel quite like it fits in with the rest of the album. That’s not a knock on Barlow, because the song isn’t bad on its own. And his other contribution to the album, closing track “You Wonder,” fits in just fine. “Garden” just sticks out. There’s also the track “I Expect It Always” which has riffs that repeat a little too often and flat melodies that do the same. Again, not a terrible song, but not quite to the same standard as everything else.

In terms of quality, pretty much everything that Dinosaur Jr. has released in its “third era” has been at least good, if not a little forgettable in the cases of I Bet On Sky and Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not. If had to place Sweep It Into Space among the albums of this era, I’d say it fits right in the middle. It’s not quite the challenging masterpiece that Farm was, and while it has the same spirit as Beyond, it doesn’t quite reach the same level. However, there are moments that are far more memorable than what Sky and Glimpse had to offer. It’s a good album that exemplifies what Dinosaur Jr. are all about at this point in their career. It’s business as usual, but that’s exactly what we want from them.

7/10

Blog Plans for 2021

Throughout the last quarter of 2020, one of the things I kept telling myself was that we just need to get to the next year. And I know I wasn’t the only person who was thinking this way. There’s something about the symbolic change from one year to the next that encourages us to look forward to better things and motivates us to do better in several areas of our lives. Hell, I created a massive list of things I want to do this year, big and small, to improve myself and the way I manage my life. It’s nice and easy and convenient to blame bad luck and the state of the world on an arbitrary grouping of 12 months, but the real causes of all these problems don’t follow a calendar. I mean, we’re not even a whole month into 2021 and it’s already given me a healthy dose of crazy, not just in the current events but in my personal life as well. But, I’m not ready to give up on Continuous Thunder just yet. I’m not entirely sure what it will look like this year, but I will do my best in this post to outline my current plans and intentions for the blog in 2021 as well as take care of some housekeeping from last year.

First off, I want to wrap up a big loose end from 2020. I was trying to go through the decade of the 2010s and go over some of my favorite releases from each year. I believe the last one that I published was for the year 2014. As of right now, I have no intentions of finishing that series. It was already taking far longer than it should have and most people probably stopped caring about “best of the decade” lists by March or April anyway. It just doesn’t make sense to me to extend it into the next year or to have an unfinished series hanging over my head while I’m trying to listen to new music and write new content. I might revisit it if there’s some kind of outcry in the comments begging me to complete the retrospective, but for now it’s ending at 2014.

Somewhat related since I started this back in 2020 is the Monthly Thunder playlists on Spotify. The first update to the playlists in 2021 will not be happening until February at the earliest, and quite possibly not until March. I’m still trying to get back into the swing of listening to the new music that comes out, and my personal life has thrown some unique curveballs that have been affecting that. I have started listening to some new stuff, slowly but surely, but I don’t know if I’ll have gotten through enough to update the playlists by February. There’s also a chance that the structure of the playlists may have to change because of how much I listen to, but we’ll get to that later in the post. The bottom line is, don’t look for playlist updates until February at the earliest.

Moving on to the actual plans for 2021, I should cover my plans for the most important bit of behind-the-scenes work for this blog: listening to new releases. In 2020, I listened to over 1100 new releases. No, that’s not a typo. And I think anyone would agree that that’s an insane amount of music to listen to, whether it’s your job or not, and especially when this is just a hobby and you already have a day job. There’s no doubt in my mind that this was one of the biggest contributing factors to my constant burnout on this project. Every week just brought a pile of new music that would hang over my head for the next month. It wasn’t really possible to enjoy the music or give it the time it needed to write a decent review. Plus, I didn’t have any time to revisit old favorites from my teenage years or even the past few years.

This year, I am going to make a conscious effort to listen to less music. Now, I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to do that as I have a bit of FOMO when it comes to new music. That album that you pass on might end up being your new favorite. But that’s a risk I’m going to have to learn to take. Even if I can reduce my listening by a few hundred albums, it will make a significant impact on my workload for this blog and give me a chance to actually listen to the music. Hopefully this will allow me to enjoy this project as the hobby that it was originally intended to be.

As far as a timeline or schedule for publishing new reviews, well… I don’t know. I wish I could tell you, but last year and the past couple months in particular, have just sucked a lot out of me and the blog just wasn’t a priority for the limited resources I had. Unfortunately, that’s still pretty much the case. Things need to even out a bit more before I can think of committing to any sort of publishing schedule. That doesn’t mean I’ll be completely silent. I’ll still be active on social media and I hope to toss you a few scraps here and there, whether they be reviews of some classic albums or a few pieces for Sleeping Village. So keep an eye out for that.

One last piece of housekeeping for this post regards a relatively minor change to how things will work from now on. If you look at the score guide (either in the sidebar or at the bottom of this post, depending on where you’re reading this) you’ll notice that I have changed my scoring system to be out of 10 rather than out of 5. When I started writing scored reviews, I chose to score out of 5 based on starred reviews as I thought they did a better job of conveying the score. However, that only really works if you’re actually using stars, and I wasn’t. Scoring out of 10 is more universal, people will understand more readily if I refer to a score by a single number, and I won’t have to transpose my scores or qualify that they’re out of 5 anymore. It’s a minor thing that I’ve wanted to do for awhile, and a new year seemed like an appropriate time to make the change.

But that should cover everything that I wanted to. Again, I’m sorry that I can’t give you a more solid timeline of when regular publishing will start up again. But I hope the promise of at least some new content is enough to keep you coming back. 2020 was a wild ride, here’s hoping 2021 goes a little more smoothly.