Dinosaur Jr.
You’re Living All Over Me
SST Records

Discovering Dinosaur Jr back in my late teens pretty much altered my world. I was obsessed with J Mascis for quite a while. His guitar playing – just golden – affected me deeply, as it does countless others, and still does. I don’t think I ever really idealized anyone quite like him. My worshipping days have died down a bit, but I’m still a total fangirl at heart. The sheer magic and genius and godlike creation that is wielded through and with his holy axe, a sunburnt finish ‘63 Fender Jazzmaster, is heavenly and unquenchable.  The casual way J sings, not exactly super poetic always lyrically, is real and gut wrenching just the same, making me crush on him so badly. He’s got that endearing way of not being a great singer technically, but the sound of his voice and the way it kind of cracks at moments really gets me.

J’s guitar playing is pure genius, and the array of pedals and effects he uses and masterminds make his sound wholly unique. You’ll hear a varying range of flanger, distortion, wah wah, at times all in varying layers, and feedback, string bending, whammy bar-ing, picking, solo noting, choppy chords, creative hooks, strumming, serious riffing – all the tricks of a guitarist’s trade in the genre of heavy rocking.  Songs will include a small handful of these elements at any given time but there is something else present. It’s the thing that is kind of indescribable. It’s creativity beyond measure. It’s anointed expression and all emotions. It’s Dinosaur Jr’s sound, like a gamma ray shooting ultraviolet light into your soul.  Not exactly hardcore, metal, punk, indie, grunge, rock or pop, but Dinosaur blends all of these styles somehow and moves way beyond them. They apparently use no alternate tunings. They play extremely loud. Kim Gordon, bassist for the now defunct Sonic Youth, dubbed Dinosaur as the first “emocore” band.

To commemorate my love for J Mascis, Lou Barlow, Murph and the music they made in the early years of Dinosaur Jr – my favorite time period of the band, here is a review of their second full length record, You’re Living All Over Me, which came out in 1987 on SST Records, engineered by Sonic Youth’s engineer, Wharton Tiers, in New York.  It was the first album under their new name –originally called Dinosaur, they were forced to change their name because another band had the same name; hence the Jr.  It’s not the first record that I owned of theirs in full, that would be Bug – to be released a year later – but “In a Jar” is the first song I ever heard. I was 17 and hanging out with my friend Danny and we were listening to cassettes in his room and he put them on for me, that song, and I remember this feeling of something incredible and new, kindling a spark of curiousness and intrigue in me. Danny thought the lyrics were funny, “I’ll be grazing by your window, Please come pat me on the head.”

When you listen to this record – listen to it in full, in sequence, and play it loud — the wall of sound and ongoing soloing is just mesmerizing and delicious, delectable and primordial, taking you beyond the moment into auditory bliss.

You may want to ponder the notable contrast of their quaint existence living in towns like Amherst and Westfield, Massachusetts, and the rebelliousness against it.  And the heaviness in its music harkening to the earlier hardcore days when they were in Deep Wound.

The whole aesthetic of You’re Living All Over Me, has this crazy energy that can feel like little creatures absorbing you and infiltrating you. The album cover, by Maura Jasper, who was a friend of J’s at school, depicts a charcoal drawing of two skeletal-like persons joined back to back with one’s head resting backwards on the other while its face is pointing downwards. It’s just creepy and weird but it works well with the imagery and the feelings in the music and lyrics on this album, which carry the essence of their youth, speaking directly to the awkwardness of teen boys with new love interests and relationships, trying to figure stuff out. It sounds lonely, sad and apathetic. It screams vulnerability, introversion, boredom, infatuation, playfulness, and desire. More simply, J has said You’re Living All Over Me is “about living in a small town, about not being able to express yourself.”

One thing that is different than all other Dinosaur Jr records is the song structure, not your typical traditional verse – chorus – verse way of writing. Also, many of the songs are put together with many amazing parts that are introduced once in the song and then never heard again. Like songs that start off with a unique intro or solo, and outros and even parts within the body of the song that are dynamite and such a delight to hear and it’s like a tease because you’re never spoiled by them.

The first song,Little Fury Things,’ right of the bat, sees  J’s spirally and writhing wah-wah and flanger guitar effects shotgunning you in the face after Murph’s super short tripped up double drumfill start, backed with droning heavy globby bass from Lou as he screeches out lyrics near impossible to discern –

What is it?
Who is it?
Where is it?

Then a more jangly strumming guitar explodes out into the chorus, accompanied by J’s sweet and earnest singing. The lyrics are weird, the imagery strange but they grip you just the same. I’ll say this right now, no one really knows what the lyrics are for sure – some say he is saying “Grab it”, while other’s hear “Rabbit”.   I think he’s mixing it up. In fact, many of the lyrics on this album are guessed at.

A Rabbit falls away from me
Guess I’ll crawl
Grab it always smashes me
Again I’ll crawl
Tried to think what’s over me
It makes me crawl
Then she runs away from me
Faster than I crawl

The feeling is childlike and innocent, with the soft way J is singing contrasted greatly with the heavy sound enveloping him. The whole scene in my head, feels like a sparkly sunny day in a grassy field, images of rabbits running and playing on you, but it also feels like he’s singing about a girl who is getting away from him.

During this next part you still don’t have too much of clue about what it means.  It’s sounds like he’s battling feelings and desires, wants to get to someone but can’t and addressing the effects of the lies they tell.

I stopped to call
Tried to feel it all
Stuck my hand and pulled real hard
Got stretched in miles, not in yards
Then I read, ’bout all those who bleed
All over your lies
Sunlight brings the red, drowning in your eyes

The stark imagery of the last line kicks back into of a super melodious jangly guitar part coupled with tambourine that is just so beautiful, and the scene it inspires is happy and poetic all the same, ending with choppy chords and whammy bar leading you back into the chorus again – this time it seems reversing the lines – starting with Grab it and next Rabbit… and then the chorus one more time but drowned out by increasing volume of a distortion wall in the last bars of the song.

‘Kracked’ starts with a real grungy and jagged sounding bass riffing fast from Lou, then blasts furiously with a really peculiar melodious guitar hook, then J starts singing roughly “C’mon Babe…” like he’s begging forgiveness for something he did, throughout the song.

Come on babe
Come on set me free
I’ve paid for my crime
Come on babe
Come on, rescue me
Just this last time

Now all drumming and bass stop as J’s guitar then changes gears into this quick melodic choppy riffing, then another succinct power hook, with Murph’s double pounding drum beat that stops and starts for emphasis, before leading into a miraculous onslaught of wah-wah effects explosion, noodling soloing guitar like a hot blue and purple laser chiseling away at your heart and soul, heading off with a perfect drum roll. So amazingly passionate and imploring to no end. Then the verse comes up and the crazy guitar frenzy dies down a bit into a quieter strumming interlude where you can hear Lou’s brassy wild reverberating bass strings, and then J imploringly sings, his voice so kind and impassioned as it repeats –

I plead the case
I need to space
Don’t let it wait
I plead the case
I need to space
Don’t let it wait

And then a transition into a bridge which are both beautifully executed, effectively building upscale to a triumphant ending verse repeated.

The next song, ‘Sludgefeast,’ is greatly named because it sounds like sludge, slower and murky at first, a large force to be reckoned with, bass and drums drudging along, so powerful – J’s guitar noodling is so beautiful, masterful. Then J’s casual way of lyricizing and singing here is so heartfelt and sweet, wishing that some girl he likes will come by and hang out with him, being tortured by his feelings –

I’m waiting, please come by
I’ve got the guts now
To meet your eye
Those guts are killing
But I can’t stop now
Got to connect with you girl
Before I forget how
Please wanna hang around?
You’ve got to wonder
What it is we found

Then this dream like quiet part with soft and sad introspective pitter patter guitar picking, the drumming like light rain drops and which then explodes with an onslaught and tapestry of heavy forceful and loud sounds, to head thrash to, or shoe-gaze to – the warm depth of the feeling is grounding, which starts off the verse for a second time.  Then this amazing fast riffing part, and a wicked soloing to end it all, reminiscent of elements from past hardcore days.  I enjoy the contrast of slow vs. fast intertwining in a song.

‘The Lung’ has a funny hiccup-y beginning but starts pretty fast, instrumental, with intense riffing and then a quicker intricate and rich melody, then the tempo switches up, increasing with a echo-y, spirally, playful, reverb filled picking, all the while twangy and country sounding, then very fast riffing again with increased building intensity, and then even more intensity that explodes right before J starts singing –

Nowhere to collapse the lung
Breathes a doubt in everyone
Nowhere to collapse the lung
Breathes a doubt in everyone

Then a long solo that is incredibly eloquent and sorrowful, just poetry gliding on strings, so emotional, and pining.

After the repeated verse, there’s again an intensity of the music building up here, and then the whole part is repeated 4x until the song just trails off, with overlays of guitar screeching.

‘Raisans’ just smashes you right in the face as it blasts off into another fast execution of melodic magic, amid Murph’s drum rolls which are ever tight and masterful. Lou’s bass is chugging along somewhere in that mess of glorious sound. The emotion and feelings in this one are rabid, moving you to a place so deep. The tone is melancholy and just so darn gut wrenching. The lyrics are getting better as the record progresses, these are possibly some of the best on the record. A song about infatuation. All these songs need to be played real loud but this one you’ll want to crank up extra.

The lights exploded
She stood burning in front of me
She ripped my heart and gave it to me
My eyes wouldn’t open, cemented to her face
Have I begun a feeble chase?

Cool little guitar hook like a question and then just perfect Murph’s trip step drumming get’s you into the chorus that makes you empathize with J’s obsessive plight –

I’ll be down, I’ll be around
I’ll be hanging where eventually you’ll have to be

I’ll just stare and hope you’ll care
It’s only everything standing in front of me

A brief pause and then a quick drum stumble into the next verse –

I know what you did to me
I know what you did was wrong
You’re allowed to just torture me
Wait a moment until I’m gone
I know you’re the ticket, you got to be
Cause I let you alone for long
Got to be so completely
Got to be so I can’t hang on

The bridge is this weird part with indecipherable speaking and mumbling  with strange sounds and then you hear  – “You’re killing me” repeated a few times. Apparently, Lou who used to go around taping random shit, used to work in a nursing home and he taped some resident who they were taking care of.  After this we’re moved into the chorus again and then a rip roaring, ear-splitting, vengeful solo if there ever was one – followed by the chorus again.

Intros on this record are where it’s at. ‘Tarpit’s is also unique, starting with a J’s guitar that strums in 5X, then you hear Murph’s drumming pound in loud and echo-y in quick succession then stop, like he’s answering J’s call, then J continues and the cymbals crash into the first part, and the tempo from here on out is slow, languid and trippy.  The wonderful lyrics are again rather elusive, but sounds like he’s struggling with his emotions which are bubbling to get out but he wants them to stay put.

Hey, what’s bubbling down under there?
Why’s it screaming? What’s unfair?
Please excuse it for getting high.
Let the shelter swell inside.

Hash it out now, Watch it squirm.
It’s asking me “What’s that I’ve learned?”

Stay inside, pull me out of space.
Tread me sprinkling grace.
Stay and pave my faith.

Thought I knew you, stuck out my hand.
You bit, wish I could understand.
It’s a twisted feeling, staring bored.
Now it’s time to burn the hope I stored.
Wait for me there, dash and run.
Still, your righteousness won’t be outdone.

After repeating the chorus again, J launches into a warbly weird distortion part, that really is just distortion and noise all in a jumble overlayered by the same languid tempo. The end is just crazy loud sounding likes scary tortured monsters and creatures, all raging and thrashing.

In a Jar’ is a favorite and classic old Dinosaur Jr song. Lou’s bass is so prominent from the get-go, really thick, full, slick and juicy sounding. There’s no intro, it just starts fully on the verse. It’s such a cute song, with fun, icky imagery. J identifies himself as some kind of insect that she keeps in a jar, and she’s going to get cuts and scabs from – or is it all much more metaphoric – signs of an abusive relationship? At certain moment’s J’s singing crackles and cuts out and I love these parts, the quality of his imperfect voice here, and his accent too, it sends shivers of delight through me.

 I’ll be grazing by your window
Please come pat me on the head
I just want to find out what you’re nice to me for
When I look up, don’t think I don’t know
About all the scabs you dread
It’s hard to stomach the gore

I know you don’t have the patience
To peel ’em off no more
In a jar where you fed me
All I could do was lick your hand
In a jar the scars are plain to see
I hope somehow you’ll know I understand

I’ll be grazing by your window
Please come pat me on the head
I just want to find out what you’re nice to me for
Then you smile and decide to take me in
‘Cause I look cute by your bed
But I can feel it’s just a little more

The way he drags out the last line just kills me, I love it so much. And this part right after really jams out hard, the bass pummelling along and rocking out, it rips my insides up.  The whole section intensifies and then J’s guitar heads in, dripping with ooze, crackling like fire as he blasts into this bridge.

I’ll watch you fall apart, babe you know it
You know I’m your new start, babe, don’t blow it
Just unscrew the top, yeah
Pick me up now just can’t stop

Now here on is full-on craziness, J’s blistering guitar part and lead and soloing cutting through then all sounds being sucked back in and there’s like a voice, kind of like the thing in the jar calling out for help, or again Lou’s old man in the nursing home.

The next couple of songs are Lou’s and ‘Lose’ starts with riffing guitar, then deep sounding bass arpeggio-ng fast all the way down low into an abyss, then J’s guitar breaks into a blistering ear screeching solo, super heavy, possibly the heaviest song on the album yet with Lou singing, which is pretty great. The mood is dark, troubled, and introvertive, but that only serves to intensify the feeling. Throughout the song there’s unique sounds and guitar parts interlaced, along with a little unique interlude in the middle part where Lou’s bass get’s low, globular and louder, with what sounds like a monster or demon growl popping up.

Can’t believe a single word I’ve said
And every subject’s the only one that’s dead
And there’s nothing from my side
Just yourself
You’ll split
I’ll begin
‘Bout to fight

Greatest stories pass, in my mind
Must be a better way to pass my time
To think the focus just belongs to me
Selfish man, I know I’m nothing to me

So when I thought I had more to say
Swimmin’ in my head
Chained to this corpse
For one more day

‘Poledo’, as the back of the record states “Recorded on two crappy tape recorders by Lou and Lou alone in his room”, and that’s pretty much what it sounds like.  But the song is quintessential all Lou and is again deep and introversive, albeit weird and creepy. For a long time, I would always skip this song, I didn’t understand it or have the patience for it. It starts with this strange kind of lonely atmospheric wind sound then cuts to Lou strumming a ukulele. It’s philosophical, introspective and throws a reference to Jesus.  Hearing this you got to feel Lou’s dark side.  Lou has said that this song is about “guilt towards all people.” It’s a precursor to his solo work in Sebadoh.

Not an innocent
I’ve made my place
That settle turning smirk
That’s always fixed upon my face
Walking weakness
Hope I die without a sound
I’m a little boy
With my feet nailed to the ground
I know I’m guilty
My stomach always hurts
Milking your attention
For the little it is worth
I’m turning browner every day
I’m really turning down a stay
Tired of your little man
I’ve been around too long
Tired of walking
Talking with me
Edging me along

There are various versions of this album existing on different formats. The version I have on CD ends with Dinosaur Jr.’s amazing rendition of Peter Frampton’s ‘Show me the Way,’  better than the original by leaps and bounds to any Dinosaur Jr fan.  The way J has newly created the talkbox with his wah pedal is brilliant. The way J sing’s “I want you, show me the way”, “I want you day after day” with his voice cracking and his pitch all off, does me in me to the core. It’s’ perfect, blazing, crushing sweet and completely rips my heart right out.

As all Dinosaur Jr fans know after their next album, Bug – also a treasure for me, tensions in the band, mainly between J and Lou, erupted in 1989 which led to Lou being kicked out.  Dinosaur Jr, sans Lou, and went on to make many more Dinosaur Jr records.  My favorites from the pile after Bug include 1991’s Greenmind, 1993’s Where you Been, and 1994’s Without a Sound. I also liked the outputs of J Mascis & the Fog, and recently picked up a used copy of Martin & Me, a solo acoustic live album released in 1996 which has a great selection of classic DJ songs and a cover of The Smiths’ ‘The Boy With A Thorn In His Side.’ Lou, as you know, went on to do his own incredible solo stuff with Sebadoh, Sentridoh and Folk Implosion.  In 2005, the boys got back together, J, Lou and Murph, and have since been releasing tons of albums which I intend to full-on discover.