Dinosaur Jr.’s second act is a feel-good gift that keeps on giving. These unwavering indie-rock lifers seem to have access to a bottomless well of arena-ready solos and riffs, brain-sticking melodies, and hurricane-force noise. In the late 1980s, the powerhouse trio—guitarist and singer J Mascis, bassist and singer Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph—became a revolutionary force in the American rock ’n’ roll underground. Then in 1989, Dinosaur Jr. went through an acrimonious breakup with Barlow, who shifted focus to his indie-rock project Sebadoh, and in 1997, after a couple more lineup changes, the band dissolved. But in 2005, the classic Dinosaur Jr. lineup improbably reunited and was welcomed back with open arms. The indie-rock juggernauts have since toured nonstop (well, until the pandemic hit) and released four solid if not exactly overwhelming studio albums. I Bet on Sky (2012) and Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (2016) feature all the band’s hallmarks: Mascis adds his slacker croaks and whines to sludge-bathed, Neil Young-inspired ear destroyers, and Barlow writes a couple ace heart-on-sleeve tunes. But those records (and the group’s first two postreunion records, 2007’s Beyond and 2009’s Farm) only offer the occasional barn burner—they all have their share of filler.
Thankfully, Dinosaur Jr.’s brand-new Sweep It Into Space is all killer—it easily ranks as the best of their version 2.0 output. Perhaps inspired by the presence of Mascis’s kindred spirit Kurt Vile, who not only coproduced the album but also added vocals and guitar parts, the trio sound locked in, rocking out on breezy grunge pop that’s on par with the band’s early-90s stone-cold classics Green Mind and Where You Been. These 12 tracks seem to fly by in an instant, and their copious hooks are nearly impossible to shake even hours after listening. Sweep It Into Space was mostly recorded before the U.S. went into lockdown last year, but the pandemic pushed its release back, giving Mascis more time to tinker and fine-tune the material in the studio. From start to finish, Sweep It Into Space gushes with crushing earworms, catchy choruses, and Mascis’s punk-driven guitar heroics. Play any track and you’ll find yourself singing or humming along, slaying on air guitar, or breaking into your most ridiculous rock face. “I Met the Stones” features a heavy metallic chug and layers of guitar work, and Barlow’s “Garden” takes the band’s dramatic quiet-loud dynamics to the next level. Vile even contributes country-fried 12-string guitar licks to the epically twangy should-be hit “I Ran Away.” Michael Azerrad may never write a sequel to his 2001 book Our Band Could Be Your Life, which documents the bands who shaped alternative and indie rock in the 80s and early 90s, but with Sweep It Into Space, Dinosaur Jr. prove once again that they deserve their chapter in it—and simultaneously add another one to their own triumphant story. v