By the time a band gets to their twelfth studio album, they typically fall under two schools of desperate thought: “let’s pump out as much of the same content as possible because it works,” or “crap, we really need to change things up before we fall off!” Because let’s be honest; even some of the greatest bands of all time get stale after twelve albums. Dinosaur Jr., somehow, seem to dodge that greed train with their most recent effort, Sweep It Into Space. Rather than copy-paste their past products or force drastic action, the group takes their rugged indie backbone and gives it a quick, melodic makeover. But while it may make their sound newer and their songs catchier, their new identity gets lost in the depths of generic indie rock.
Despite being primarily written pre-pandemic, Sweep It Into Space is about introspection, reflection, and personal growth (or maybe that’s thanks to the new context). “Garden” is full of soft, twinkling guitars, as the group recognizes the importance of personal relationships, “Hand me your hand, no time to wait / Where is the garden? / And when do we move? / Love how you move with me.” The bright and victorious album intro, “I Ain’t,” fortifies these themes repeating the relatable, “I ain’t good alone.” Throughout the record, positivity is placed alongside regret, constantly looking back to learn from the past.
The group’s sound naturally echoes this emotional approach, taking the tiny pieces that make of Dinosaur Jr.’s staple sound, and attempting to push them forward, not just sonically but spiritually. Their chunky and cluttered guitars are there, tracks like “To Be Waiting” showcase some insane solo performances from Mascis, and the grungy reputation of both Kurt Vile and Dinosaur Jr. fail to be tainted, there’s just a new, glossy finish. Yes, the topics are often touching and noteworthy, but the positive energy can be sourced to something as simple as the guitars’ undertones. Even at their harshest, “I Met The Stones,” Dinosaur Jr.’s driving guitars aren’t oppressive, they’re inspirational.
When their new direction is placed in a bubble, everything seems great, but there’s something frustratingly generic about Sweep It Into Space, and it comes from the unfortunate reality of Dinosaur Jr.’s origins. As a driving force in late 80s and early 90s indie rock, they helped forge the base of many indie movements and sounds, and at some point, a large number of bands took their approach, and made it cleaner. Thirty-some odd years later, and the group are finally doing it themselves, but it feels much too late. In a side of indie that’s been so overdone, Dinosaur Jr.’s defining features were all they had left (without the typical, extreme, “wing it” move). Now, with the exception of Mascis’s memorable voice (which arguably changes alongside the music), the group’s legacy is interrupted, and they provide nothing in return.
The group’s surprising avoidance of the pitfalls of growing old is initially uplifting. Rather than play for the most ears, Sweep It Into Space sounds like Dinosaur Jr. having a little bit of fun experimenting with their sound and looking back on the past. But their immense influence on the genre’s basics shines through, making the creativity they’re attempting come off as mind-numbingly boring. For Dinosaur Jr. and their hardcore fans, Sweep It Into Space is refreshing and new ground, but for those seasoned in indie rock from the past three decades, there’s nothing worth returning to.