Lovers Lane
Copernicus Center

Pedal-hopping like a Dinosaur . . .

| March 29, 2011

It only took 20 years, but the Dinosaur Jr. frontman finally followed Lou Barlow to Sub Pop for some sad-sack acoustipop.

“Don’t air dirty laundry” didn’t apply to Barlow’s ouster from Dinosaur, and early press for his Sebadoh side-project centered on his barely veiled attacks on his former boss, J Mascis. Of course, that’s all water under the bridge since Dino Jr.’s “classic” lineup regrouped for albums and tours, though it quietly resurfaces now that Mascis has released a solo album — a tender solo album — on the label that resurrected Barlow and made him an indie star, and Mascis and Sebadoh both play Chicago this week on separate bills.

First, the Mascis album: Several Shades Of Why successfully rekindles the comedown moments that populated DJr albums like Green Mind and Where You Been?, feigning intimacy at times and then actually going for it. He uses his own name on the sleeve and spine, but populates the tracks with guests (Broken Social Scene, tourmate Kurt Vile, Godspeed You Black Emperor) to give the appearance of collaboration. Comparisons to that other side of Neil Young are inevitable — especially as Mascis’ voice ages — yet there’s also a resplendence in the recording. Though not necessarily a guitar album, Mascis is still a damn good guitarist and we get to hear him play. Shades is by no means a crossover, however, and even if Band Of Horses’ Ben Bridwell glosses “Not Enough,” it’s hard to discount the sensation that this is the unspoken wish Dino Jr. fans have always harbored, and Mascis delivers without ever giving anything away. (Friday@Subterranean with Kurt Vile.)

So if Mascis succeeds in bringing you back to ’94, you might as well stay there for Barlow and Sebadoh to bring Bakesale around. While Sebadoh III gets all the thrust, Bakesale birthed lo-fi indie rock to the (relative) masses. (Forget Pavement.) Its impact was twofold: commercially, Sebadoh began playing thousand-seat venues, which is child’s play to today’s indie rocker, but was a goddamn miracle 15 years ago; secondly, Barlow became so enamored with his potential that he made his three-man solo-project turn itself into a conventional, interacting band. Without devolving into the pityparty that would become emo, the album self-lacerates and plays the impenetrable mindgames of a deviant, serial monogamist. Barlow flashed the pop sensibility that could have dragged him to mainstream radio (“Not A Friend” shares a melodic figure with Gin Blossoms’ “Until I Fall Away,” released the same year) but a pathology too adult for teens to decipher (begging a paramour to dump him because he’s too self-absorbed to do it himself). Later he begs for rebound sex in denial of his predatory nature, and in general makes Greg Dulli look like a saint in comparison.) (Sunday@Lincoln Hall with Richard Buckner and Turn To Crime.)

Psychologists love to observe people who think no one’s watching. That was the story, up until last year, of Kurt Vile, but now we have a completely different animal. Smoke Ring For My Halo marks the formerly obscure Vile’s second album for Matador (plus an EP), and, unsurprisingly, people can comprehend what he’s singing now. It’s not necessarily a negative development, as Vile clearly gestated long enough for these morose compositions to take to the light, however, in an era of total exposure to everything, a formerly voyeuristic pleasure has vanished. (Friday@Reckless Records in-store performance and @Subterranean opening for J Mascis.)

– Steve Forstneger

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