A little over a decade after T. Rex and two before Mastodon, there was Dinosaur Jr. Less thunderous and gigantic than both bands, Dinosaur Jr. wore that “Junior” proud, even if it was a latter day add-on from discovering another band with the same name. The scruffy Bostonian trio of J. Mascis, Lou Barlow and a drummer simply named “Murph” took on a new form of punk rock that was at once more palatable, yet more outrageous than what came before it. Influenced by the rootsy but chaotic songwriting and guitar playing of Neil Young, Dinosaur Jr. was turning a new leaf in punk rock and paving the way for the golden age of “indie rock.”
Dinosaur Jr’s first record, Dinosaur, when compared to the rest of their work, almost sounds like early material from bass player Lou Barlow’s later band, Sebadoh. It’s lo-fi, fast, catchy and energetic. But at the same time, J. Mascis’ guitar playing and charmingly imperfect voice lent an intensity to the band that Barlow’s more emotional material cast aside. Put in context, this album came out a year after Zen Arcade, three years before Daydream Nation and Surfer Rosa, six years before Loveless and almost ten before There’s Nothing Wrong With Love. That’s an impressive jump into the game, even if their first album wasn’t as gigantic as the groundbreaking album that followed, You’re Living All Over Me.
Regardless, Dinosaur shows the band in its infancy, taking on a decidedly more straightforward punk approach. Like Husker Du and The Minutemen before them, Dinosaur Jr. was re-defining American punk rock. The fuzzed-out opener “Bulbs of Passion” is the defining song of the set, a slower but heavier track that showed both a melodic and an ear-achingly loud side of the band. But the band shows off many sides to their sound on this debut set. “Forget the Swan” and “The Leper” are straightforward and fast-paced punk rockers. “Pointless” is the meeting point between melody and agony. And “Repulsion” is among the catchiest of the band’s material, even if it never had the exposure that “Start Choppin'” or “I Feel The Pain” did.
A good eight years or so before being accepted into the Alternative Nation, Dinosaur Jr. was a small but intense indie rock trio with something to prove. Pain can sound beautiful and punk rock can have guitar heroes. The indie rock world owes much to Mascis, Barlow and Murph. Just listen to all of your favorite records released in the `90s and try hard not to find a little Dinosaur in `em.
Sebadoh – III
Husker Du – New Day Rising
Sonic Youth – Evol
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.