There have only been a few genuine indie rock guitar gods. Thurston Moore is one. Doug Martsch is another. And then of course, there’s J. Mascis. A monster guitar player, songwriter and notoriously bad interview subject, Mascis, along with his bandmates in Dinosaur Jr., helped shape the Boston indie rock sound of the late ’80s and early ’90s. But when it comes to the album that defined the era, it usually comes down to two essential releases—The Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and Dinosaur Jr.’s You’re Living All Over Me.
Considered the finest entry of the Dinosaur canon, You’re Living All Over Me is a guitar album for the punk rockers. It’s heavily steeped equally in Neil Young and Husker Dü. And what’s more, the guitars are almost deafeningly loud. Mascis’ style is noisy and a tad sloppy, but nonetheless overwhelming and threatening to your eardrums. At the time, there were few albums that dared blur the line between classic rock guitar heroics and the energy and aesthetic of punk rock. D. Boon of the Minutemen said that Dinosaur Jr. sounded like the East Coast Meat Puppets, to which Mascis replied that that’s what his intent was.
Considering their contemporaries at the time (Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, Husker Du), it makes perfect sense that Living was released on SST, a landmark indie label that launched the careers of many a lo-fi icon. And as it turns out, You’re Living All Over Me is one of the greatest records to be released on SST. Practically every song is a classic on this collection, which was just reissued by Merge. Opener “Little Fury Things,” also released as a seven-inch back in the day, sounds like the American equivalent of the shoegazer movement in Britain, only about a year earlier. “Kracked” is a fast-paced punk rocker with one of the best riffs in indie rock history, albeit one that the band merely teased us with before abandoning it altogether. And “SludgeFeast” is exactly what the title promises, a murky, distorted swamp of frenzied soloing. “Raisans” is melodic and catchy, one of the less noisy and more straightforward tracks on the album.
Just as important as Mascis’ guitar acrobatics, however is Lou Barlow’s tight, straightforward bass playing, which laid a solid groundwork for J’s stringed flights of fancy. Nowhere is it more apparent than on “In a Jar,” in which Barlow’s bass almost upstages Mascis’ axe. Not that he gets all that showy. But the song is mixed in such a way that the bass is somewhat more noticeable amidst the gossamer washes of major chords. What’s more, Barlow even began his long career of self-recording with “Poledo,” a song that he recorded himself at home. It almost sounds out of place on the album, but it breaks up the noisy chaos for five minutes, just before the final track — a cover of The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven.” Faithful but, nonetheless, Mascis-ized, the song is among the best on the album. And what seems even more entertaining is that it was released in the same year as The Cure’s original. Few bands would be able to get away with that sort of audacious novelty, but in the case of Dinosaur Jr., it’s actually a great cover version.
There’s no doubt that J. Mascis is one of the greatest guitar players in indie rock history. That isn’t to say he hit every note just perfectly. That wasn’t the point. This was the meeting point between the Monsters of Rock and the DIY punk ethos. Alternative rock as we know it wouldn’t be anything without Dinosaur Jr. or You’re Living All Over Me.