Matthew Dear is a DJ, a dance-music producer, an experimental pop artist, and a bandleader. His latest album Beams is a suite of weird, wild, and queasily optimistic rhythm-driven pop songs. He currently lives in upstate New York near the Delaware River. You can follow him on Twitter here.
I met J. Mascis once. It was a brief backstage sighting in 2007 at the Belgian festival Pukkelpop. In a rare moment of unquestioned will, I hopped up from where I was sitting and approached him, simply to say how much I enjoyed Beyond, Dinosaur Jr.’s eighth and latest album at the time. His reply was humble and gracious. However, what forever burned itself into my mind was not his gratitude but the sound of his voice: It was identical to the J. Mascis I had grown up with on the albums, a voice seemingly smothered in amber molasses, dripping from his mouth down to the pavement.
I Bet on Sky is Dinosaur Jr.’s tenth album, and it’s overflowing with jars of that slow-paced, oozing voice. “Discharge is a sign,” Mascis sings on the Mellotron-laden album opener “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know,” evoking images of a forlorn, angst-ridden soul in a dark hallway, leaning with his back against the wall, head cocked up at the ceiling, staring. Has he been burned and now blames himself and the lover who scorned him? Will there be a resolution? Did she really pretend she didn’t know? Whatever the case, or the song’s meaning for Mascis, the beauty of Dinosaur Jr.’s music remains apparent. It evokes a comforting familiarity that, when left unchallenged, propels listeners into a soft-space imagination spurred by three-piece rock simplicity. Unlike many of their contemporaries who have failed to stay cohesive and fallen by the critical wayside years ago, Dinosaur Jr. prevails by not getting in the way of being Dinosaur Jr. and in turn gives the listener all of the creative listening freedom they desire.
Last year, Spin notched Mascis at the number five spot in their list of the greatest guitarists of all time. Granted, it was a list geared toward guitarists who are “resourceful, egalitarian, flawed and human” and although having some considerably questionable entries along the way, it nonetheless kept Mascis in the company of some boundary-breaking musicianship — including Prince, Kurt Cobain, and Thurston Moore. I Bet on Sky is wrought with Mascis’ effervescently sharp string bends and crunched, compacted chords. Immediate guitar standouts “What Was That” and “See It on Your Side” follow in the tradition that would place Mascis atop many all-time great lists. “What Was That” opens with a mantric repeater riff, rattling high in the upper frets, slightly effected with delay, mesmerizingly simple and boldly effective. “See It on Your Side” conjures feelings similar to the best Guided by Voices riffs, pure in their domain, as if plowed from fields where rock & roll grows like rows of wheat on a plain.
Seemingly, Dinosaur Jr.’s goals are to blanket the listener with an unabashed raucous fervor and coat the mind in pithy tales of flawed love and bittersweet optimism. I Bet on Sky continues traditions, and reflects a band firmly established in its sound, moving forward into another decade, fastidiously committed to doing what they do best — which is simply being Dinosaur Jr.