Listen to Green Mind a time or two and the term folk rock starts to take on entirely new dimensions. While no one’s going to mistake Dinosaur Jr majordomo J. Mascis for a Roger McGuinn acolyte, there’s no denying that his pretty melodies and drawling, laid-back voice connote folk as surely as his over-the-top guitar playing spells rock. The resulting musical conflation is the sort of hybrid for which oxymorons like “lethargic urgency” are coined.
Green Mind is Dinosaur Jr’s major-label debut after several years of critical accolades and Neil Young comparisons. Chaotic personnel shifts within the band resulted in Mascis’s playing most of the instruments on the album himself, but Green Mind sounds every bit as energetic and full-blooded as the explosive Bug, from 1988. Thematically, the songs still seem to be fuzzy-headed treatises on boredom, fence sitting and passive romantic longing, but now there’s an increasing specificity to the words that indicates Mascis is facing his introspective hippie Weltschmerz head-on. “I’ve been thinking through the night/Everybody’s so uptight/People hurt, and that’s their right/Cut ’em all loose, think I might,” he sings on “Blowing It/I Live for That Look.” The title track might be construed as Mascis’s bemused reflections on his status as an underground cult figure, championed by the likes of Sonic Youth and pressured into hanging out with the garage-rock jet set. “On a certain level I think they’re great/But on another I can’t relate/To anything they do,” he whines.
But even if Mascis’s Thorazine-shuffle blues persona isn’t your cup of tea, his guitar playing will nail you to the wall. His solos on “Water” and “Thumb” are as fluid and visceral as those by Sixties dinosaurs like Eric Clapton or Carlos Santana. Indeed, when Mascis pulls out all the stops — as he does on just about every song — the sound of overdubbed six-strings in overdrive will bowl over even confirmed louder-is-better zealots. Anyone who still believes in the power of the electric guitar to communicate in codes both wacky and wonderful should think twice before passing up Green Mind.