P>After Lou Barlow was kicked out in 1988, Dinosaur Jr became an all-J Mascis project. No surprise, then, that Mascis' new backing band, the Fog, is almost all J, all the time (on this album, he's got help on vocals from Guided By Voices' Bob Pollard with assistance from My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields). Mascis found a formula years ago—becoming the indie-rock Eddie Van Halen in the process—and has lugged it along ever since. That said, everything about More Light is mid-'90s Dinosaur Jr, right down to the title font and the Neil Blender artwork on the CD cover. Mascis' lyrics still bristle with desperate insecurity ("Remember when I really blew it/Wish I would've thought of you," from "Ammaring"), and his best songs still come out swinging hard. "Back Before You Go" shows he can also still take hair-rock riffing and turn it into something honest. "I'm Not Fine" apes Crazy Horse, while "Ammaring" is a sweet, bluesy number with Mascis deploying his molasses-coated voice to pout about confusion. His few attempts at fucking with the formula flop, though: the piano on "Ground Me to You" and the synth washes of "Waistin" are unfocused, while the ending title track sounds like an ugly My Bloody Valentine song backed by a drum machine. But the songwriting is familiar enough to please old Dino fans, especially those whose favorite album was Where You Been. (Michael Coyle)
EAST AUTUMN GRIN
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In the liner notes of East Autumn Grin, Matthew Ryan quotes Arthur Rimbaud's "A Season in Hell." And like the French poet, Ryan's compositions have a magical power that captivates. The album cover photo—with a contemplative Ryan smoking alone on a rooftop—and song titles ("Sunk," "Worry," "Ballad of a Limping Man") hint that this Pennsylvania-bred singer/ songwriter isn't exactly interested in churning out giddy teen pop. Instead, he writes lyrics about betrayal, suicide, murder and emptiness in a far more engaging manner than today's Nu Metal chart toppers could ever hope for. With his gruff voice and slow delivery, Ryan recalls such other soul-searching singer/songwriters as Paul Westerberg, Tom Waits and Bruce Springsteen. Yet this album's stark, atmospheric musical scope gives you a feeling that something else bubbles underneath. Take the anthemic song snippets of such old public-domain standards as "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "Camptown Races" heard floating between the CD tracks like ghostly iconography. Then there's the vivid imagery of "I Hear a Symphony," in which Ryan finds light in the darkest of places: "at night when the shots are like bells" and in watching the "exclusive footage of a suicide" on his TV. In "Heartache Weather," Ryan emphasizes that "things are gonna get worse/before they get better." Add a solid roster of musicians that include Concrete Blonde's Johnette Napolitano (who lays down some haunting backing vocals on "The World Is on Fire" and "Sunk") and Josh Rouse, as well as some trumpet work by Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner (!), and you've got a finely nuanced disc that stands as one of 2000's best. (George A. Paul)