Noise So Wonderful: A rock ‘n’ roll round-up feat. Dinosaur Jr., The Armed, & The Hold Steady

Rock and roll!

Sweep It Into Space | Dinosaur Jr.

Who would have predicted the sustained pleasure of Dinosaur Jr.’s second act? If forced to choose, I would probably still name the rip-roaring Beyond as my favorite record of their comeback era, which has now proved far more durable than their first go-around. But all of the Mach II albums have been good, and the Kurt Vile-assisted Sweep It Into Space may be the one that sounds most effortless. The critical buzzword is “breezy,” and sure enough, the group has never sounded less strained as it rattles off guitar heroics, garage-rock clatter, and relaxed drawl. A full four songs start with the word “I,” attesting to the loose, conversational tone; my favorite is the gleeful “I Met the Stones,” sadly not a fan encounter between J. Mascis and Keith Richards, though its abundance of riffs suggest it might have been a fruitful summit for both parties. After a few listens, I have even grown fond of “Garden,” an endearing jam-bandy turn from Lou Barlow. Throughout the album, these guys sound like they’re having a blast; like they could keep doing this forever.

ULTRAPOP | The Armed

I’m mostly a dummy when it comes to hardcore music. When last I spent any extended time in this space, it was because of the bruisingly good Turnstile record released in early 2018. The acclaimed new album from The Armed is bruising-er still, a 38-minute pummeling of screams and wails, what sounds like a dozen guitars and at least half as many drum kits. But while the music is cacophonous, it never feels undirected: At times the noise congeals into mutant pop melodies, and even at their rowdiest these noisemakers move with a certain fluidity of sound and unity of purpose. I’ve been playing it as ambient music: Its ripples of maximalist energy signify as sheer exuberance, and who couldn’t use some of that?

Open Door Policy | The Hold Steady

Their best album at least since 2008’s Stay Positive, and maybe even since the classic Boys and Girls in America. Granted, that’s a low bar. America’s bar band realized long ago that they couldn’t maintain their piledriving momentum forever, but it took several so-so albums for them to come up with a worthy substitute. Open Door Policy is it, a slower but by no means enervated collection of textured, colorful rock and roll. It’s orchestrated with drama and a real sense of narrative flow, which is the perfect kind of accompaniment for Craig Finn’s loquacious character studies, each one an exercise in empathy. In fact, Open Door Policy feels like a bridge between early Hold Steady and Finn’s solo work: It’s as painterly as I Need a New War, but with the kind of effortless flexing that only a veteran band can deliver.

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