The early years of Dinosaur Jr. are defined by conflict. In his comprehensive indie-rock oral history Our Band Could Be Your Life, Michael Azerrad describes Dinosaur Jr. in terms of missed social cues, infighting and passive aggression that eventually boiled over and resulted in Lou Barlow exiting the band. But you don’t need to know the history of Dinosaur Jr. to get a sense of the conflict that drove them. Barlow and J Mascis were diametrically opposed in many ways. J sang in a laconic, pseudo-Southern drawl about abstract concepts; Lou sang with a pleading tone that made the emotional bloodletting of his words even more apparent. J was a near-virtuoso on guitar; Lou prized punk-rock simplicity over showmanship on the bass. It’s a small wonder that they were able to make music together at all, let alone make classic albums like Bug and You’re Living All Over Me. What’s even more surprising is that J and Lou seem to have set aside their differences permanently; since Lou rejoined the band in 2005, the “classic” lineup of Dinosaur Jr. has made as many albums as they did in their early years, and the group is set to surpass that total with Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not, due out later this year. Clearly, this reunion was more than an easy cash-in, and when going back to the album that kicked of Dino Mach II, one can hear just how eager the band were to shake off their past.

At the time of its release in 2007, Beyond was greeted with cautious optimism. After a few recently reunited legacy bands came back with lazy, misguided reunion albums (The Stooges and the New York Dolls come to mind), mere competence was an impressive thing to hear. At the very least, Beyond sounded like what Dinosaur Jr. was supposed to sound like. Beyond was loud, with J’s guitar placed prominently in the mix, and Lou’s booming, distorted bass was a relief to listeners who may have found Without A Sound or Hand It Over to be just a little too polished. While it certainly sounds cleaner and more professional than their seminal ‘80s albums–such are the benefits of experience and actually having enough money to make a record–Beyond retains some of the edge that fans associated with the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup. Yet for those looking for a total return to form, there was something conspicuously absent on Beyond.

The three men who got into the studio to make Beyond weren’t the same as they were 20 years ago. J, Lou and Murph had all grown considerably as people and had had different experiences. The wild abandon that characterized them in their heyday began to fade as J and Lou further developed their songwriting voices. By the time of Beyond, J had moved away from hard-driving, punk-inspired guitar heroics and towards something jammier and more country-inspired. Meanwhile, Lou’s songs with Sebadoh and Folk Implosion matured over time, with a greater emphasis placed on craft as opposed to raw emotional expression. Both had become focused craftsmen by the time of Beyond, and that skill is what not only defines the album, but has since defined Dinosaur Jr. as a band.

For all of his guitar talent, J Mascis always came across as an accidental guitar god. Granted, this is partially true: J was a drummer first and came into playing guitar out of necessity. But while J’s guitar was always the driving force of Dinosaur Jr., he seemed to only resort to fret board fireworks as accents to songs. On Beyond, J is not only playing some of the best guitar of his life, but he also seems to revel in his technical mastery of the instrument. J announces this right at the start of the record with “Almost Ready,” which opens with a flurry of guitar for 25 seconds before we even hear him say a word. Both “Pick Me Up” and “This Is All I Came To Do” are like classic rock jams in the vein of Crazy Horse, which J had always hinted at but never expressed so openly. While J’s songs here are otherwise characterized by what one expects from him—intentionally vague lyrics and the laconic drawl that sounds like Neil Young’s slacker cousin—the clearer emphasis on technical skill goes a long way towards redefining what Dinosaur Jr. were and are as a band.

With so much emphasis placed on guitars, one would expect Barlow to push back against that with his material. That’s not the case: while Barlow only contributed two songs to Beyond, both fit right in alongside Mascis’ efforts on the album. Whereas we previously heard late-album curveballs like “Poledo” and “Don’t” from Barlow, here we get “Back to Your Heart,” a mid-tempo dirge that features J’s guitar work as frequently as Lou’s plaintive vocals. With both this and “Lightning Bulb,” Lou seems to be trying to coexist with J rather than fight him. This dynamic shift gets to the heart of what makes Dinosaur Jr. so different nowadays. Originally, this was a band driven by conflict and disharmony; now, unity and cohesion are what make Dinosaur Jr. what they are.

As time has gone on, Dinosaur Jr. have gotten jammier and more classic-sounding on record. It’s not that shocking of a shift; punk aggression stops being a good look once you become old enough to have kids in elementary school. But that aggression was, in a way, key to making Dinosaur Jr. what they were; it’s central to the myth that made the band cult heroes. Credit, though, should go to J, Lou and Murph for realizing that raw emotion isn’t sustainable creative fuel as one gets older. In that sense, Beyond isn’t the continuation of the Dinosaur Jr. story; it’s the debut of a completely different band entirely.

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