30 Years Ago: Dinosaur Jr. Nurse an Indie Masterpiece With ‘You’re Living All Over Me’
In 2005, Dinosaur Jr. reformed with their original lineup following a 19-year estrangement.
Not that Dinosaur Jr. had been musically dormant for that long. Their last album at the time was Hand It Over, released in 1997, less then a decade before the reunion. But the openly fractious relationship between founding members guitarist-frontman J Mascis and bassist Lou Barlow resulted the latter's ousting after 1988's Bug—two years before the band had managed to clinch a major record deal. Drummer Emmett "Murph" Murphy jumped ship in 1993, joining the Lemonheads two years later.
When the Amherst, Mass.-based trio came back to life, so did their three earliest albums: Dinosaur (officially their band name until 1988), You're Living All Over Me, and Bug, all released between 1985 and 1987, were reissued by Merge Records in tandem with the band's reunion.
Dinosaur Jr.'s commercial vitality peaked in the mid-'90s, a few singles, propelled by indie buzz, floated into Billboard's Modern Rock chart. But with the Merge reissues, three critical stages of the '80s segment of the band's career were underscored: Dinosaur, their cluttered-sounding, underwhelming debut; Bug, a good album, but one whose internal personnel drama weighed on the recordings just before resulting in Barlow's expulsion. But with You're Living All Over Me—the middle release—the band cemented its first masterpiece.
Produced by Wharton Tiers, a percussionist and conceptual artist who gained recognition in New York's mid-'70s "No Wave" scene. Tiers' earliest production credit of note can be found on pioneering noise duo Theoretical Girls's 1978 "You Got Me" 7" b/w "U.S. Millie." (Theoretical Girls alum Glenn Branca later became a avant-garde composer in his own right.)
Tiers occupying the producer chair provided an interesting counterbalance to the bandleader. The ex-Theoretical Girls talent was an experimental musical deviant, while Mascis—on paper, anyway—a straightforward rock-and-roll traditionalist. Absent the art-school pretenses, Mascis shreds singing about "hanging around" ("Raisans") and who wants to know "what you're nice to me for" ("In a Jar"). In a word, Mascis is eccentric for his aversion to eccentricity.
These seemingly opposing aesthetics, however, shared in their taste for the abrasive chaos of noise. The resulting collaboration made for a whirlwind album that sweeps earnest melodies, mammoth guitar chords and noisy discord up into a perfect storm of indie-rock unorthodoxy. Mascis's self-conscious lyrics, and even coyer vocal delivery, only emboldened Dinosaur Jr.'s distinct musical character.
The guitar muscularity that rains between the verses on the appropriately titled "Sludgefeast" is juxtaposed with Mascis's yearning vocals, self-pityingly pleading, "I'm waiting / Please come by / I've got the guts now / To meet your eye." It's one song of many impossible to hear without tracing its idiosyncratic guitar excesses to contemporary artists of as varied backgrounds as indie-rock fuzz-fetishists like Ty Segall and brawnier metal acts like Mastodon. Shoegaze architect Kevin Shields credits the album with inspiring My Bloody Valentine's You Made Me Realize EP, which came out a year after You're Living All Over Me.
"The Lung," which has survived as a reliable live staple, is more transparently sensitive yet no less hair-raising. Single-note guitar phrases dash at a disorienting pace, but unlike the metallic angularity of album's thrash-inspired moments (instincts carried by Mascis and Barlow from their previous punk outfit, Deep Wound), "The Lung" captures the alluring tension between braggadocio guitar and moping lyrics and vocals that You're Living All Over Me perfected.
Tiers' involvement helped foster a connection between Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth, whose early records he produced. Guitarist Lee Renaldo found his way onto the You're Living All Over Me, providing backup vocals on opening track "Little Furry Things." Mascis, in turn, would appear on Sonic Youth's breakthrough Goo, offering both backing vocals and minor co-production duties.
Having since reconvened in 2005, Dinosaur Jr.'s original three have by now existed as a band longer in post-hiatus years than they did during their original run. And far from being the novel reminder of pre-21st century indie rock they were when they released their first post-hiatus album Beyond, Dinosaur Jr., Despite having laid the groundwork in an earlier era, Dinosaur Jr. feel perfectly contemporary.