For decades now, Massachusetts’ Dinosaur Jr. have catapulted expectations right out of the stratosphere by hopelessly and continuously being stalwarts of guitar music. When they reformed in 2005, during the boom of reunions for nearly-forgotten 90s rockers, Dinosaur Jr. were expected to join the likes of Pixies and just exist till their concerts weren’t booked anymore. Instead, the band used their second act to deliver four LPs in a timely manner, but took a five-year break for the fifth one, Sweep It Into Space.
The lengthy gestation period for Sweep doesn’t seem to have changed much. Recorded at the same studio they’ve used repeatedly over the years, Bisquiteen Studio in Amherst, this time the band invited fellow noodler Kurt Vile to the sessions – though his presence is barely felt. If anything, Vile’s sort-of inclusion illustrates how little guitar bands of this vein are interested in trying something new. But, at this point, it doesn’t really matter; with Sweep the band have settled into a complacent space that’s predictably fun.
“I Ain’t” gets things rolling with a bar band riff that jaunts and jives around J. Mascis’ modulated chords, “I can’t take it / Can’t quite place it / I won’t make it alone.” It’s the type of guitar rock that wouldn’t be out of place on any one of their other recent albums, or tacked onto the end of a compilation. Still, there’s no denying just how fluid the band sounds on Sweep, even if it’s a safe experience. Mascis has nothing left to prove to anyone, and “I Ain’t” is the type of late-career rocker that would out pace practically any other rock band delivering their 12th album.
Sweep plays to its strengths briskly too. There’s very little space for anything besides Mascis’ warm vocals or his squealing on the guitar, which reaches across all the tracks as usual. Lyrically, Mascis is writing more from the heart than it may initially sound. “I Met the Stones” reads like an interaction with the famed Brits, but its lyrics make it seem more elemental and earthy; “I got to help you find the sound / I held a piece off the ground and down / Thought that it meant you’d come around.” Mascis is also focusing on his heart for Sweep, as on the Vile-assisted “I Ran Away”, which seems like a love letter to someone he left; “Meet me where I know / Here’s a piece I can’t let go / The difference is you found it / There’s no way of knowin’.”
“Take It Back” might be one of the few moments that elicit an eyebrow raise, as it implements flowery keyboards with less emphasis on the guitar. Mascis handles the keys, but manages to give it an indie-pop flair, making “Take It Back” more ballad-esque – in the Dino Jr. definition, of course – as it slows things down to their version of a crawl, while the fluttering guitar work heard in the background is a nice addition to the track to remind us that we’re still listening to fuzz rock. This is just a small portion of Sweep though, as it soon returns to its roots for the remainder, but for a few minutes it made us question if we were still listening to the same band who wrote “Start Choppin’.”
Sweep It Into Space has all the ingredients for a pleasant listen, while doing little to separate itself from the rest of their discography. It further cements Dinosaur Jr.’s return as being welcomed but nothing overly exciting. Everything here is standard for the band – light, hummable, and, above all else, inoffensive, which is obviously the intention from the band. Those yearning for something a little fresher won’t find it, but if we can learn anything from Sweep it’s that they’re still energized and there will likely be plenty more Dinosaur Jr. albums in the future, where they might take more of a gamble. For now, they are sticking to what they know best.