One great thing about history is examining why something happened and how it continues to impact more recent developments. Take Dinosaur Jr., which is generally acknowledged as one of the American indie-rock bands of the mid-1980s -- but why? Now that Merge Records has rereleased the group's first three albums, neophytes have an opportunity to find out. Dinosaur Jr. guitarist/singer J. Mascis, bassist Lou Barlow, and drummer Murph emerged from the hardcore punk scene that arose in the wake of the "class of 1977," i.e., those disaffected youth disdaining the concept of the guitar solo. No longer stuck in the stone ages of the Ramones and the Clash, the members felt free to apply hardcore's ferocity to pre-punk (Neil Young, Stooges) and metal (Dio, Black Sabbath). The artless, shambling Dinosaur Jr. (1985) was in a way their "blueprint," and sounded like the product of several aesthetics overlapping: louder/faster/shorter; six-string squall incorporating psychedelic flourishes and power-chord slabs; slightly rustic, spacey folk-picking; and vocals either drawled indolently or frenziedly screamed. The follow-up, You're Living All Over Me (1987), mightily built on that foundation, as evinced by the unrestrained wah-wah'd guitar orgasm and hazy, Byrds-like harmonies of "Little Fury Things" and Mascis' Summer of Love-on-steroids solo on "Kracked." Elsewhere, the trio gets as noisy as mid-'80s Sonic Youth, albeit in a more organic manner. The third and last disc by the original Dino Jr. lineup, Bug (1988), presents the band as tighter and more accomplished (though certainly not slick), which is ironic, as the trio was about to implode. Possessing a slightly cleaner, less metallic, janglier guitar sound, Bug's pretty, sweetly melodic songs (the folk-rock-tinged "Pond Song" and the yearning midtempo "Yeah We Know") are lent savor by the contrasting closer, "Keep the Glove," which begins as an amiable, loping country-flavored ditty before shattering into a surreal shower of glistening distortion. After Bug, Dinosaur Jr. basically became the J. Mascis Band, never again displaying the inspired, ungainly summits experienced here.
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