With 27 years under its belt, Dinosaur Jr. has grown quite comfortable in its post-punk skin. But J Mascis and crew don’t confuse comfort for laziness on their latest effort, I Bet On Sky. The album marks Dinosaur Jr.’s 10th studio release and third since reforming in 2005, allowing the band to mellow out while still packing its signature punch.
On “Don’t Pretend You Didn’t Know,” Mascis kicks the album off with his distinctive jangly guitar, not nearly as distorted as it usually is but definitely moodier, and a synthesized piano joins in for added gloom. A chugging guitar intro brings a heavier sound to “Watch The Corners,” along with Mascis’s beloved buzzed-out guitars and Murph’s paced drumming, and it’s the guitar solo that dominates the latter half of the song with 1970s metal nostalgia.
The album jumps two decades forward on “Almost Fare,” a ’90s alt-rock jam complete with big drums and even deeper bass drones, all while Mascis whines with both his voice and his guitar. The drone continues on the chilled-out “Stick A Toe In” with lighter piano tones cutting through the fuzz and jagged vocals that turn somewhat sing-songy as the song plays out, with guitars to match. The jangle comes back strong on the upbeat shuffle of “Rude,” where Mascis hands the mic over to bassist Lou Barlow, and it’s as playful and fun as Dinosaur Jr. can get with Barlow singing, “I wish I didn’t care ’cause caring is rude.”
Mascis returns on “I Know It Oh So Well,” another ’90s homage complete with wah-wah guitar leads. “Pierce The Morning Rain” pounds through with a full-on instrumental assault, each musician playing hard and charging through what could be a classic Dino headbanger. That charge is channeled into a more controlled tempo on “What Was That.” Barlow takes over the mic again on “Recognition,” a song that crunches and digs deep while still keeping the slow and steady pace. The album closes out with “See It On Your Side,” a wailing rocker seething with guitar solos.
I Bet On Sky exhibits Dinosaur Jr.’s control over its instruments and the comfortable, complementary relationship that comes with the band being in its original three-person formation. It’s everything to be expected: Dinosaur Jr. sounds relaxed, takes a laid-back approach and still manages to make an album that stands up next to everything else that the band has released since its resurrection.