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***; DINOSAUR JR., “Without a Sound” (...

***; DINOSAUR JR., “Without a Sound” ( Sire/Reprise )

“Without a Look” might be more like it, given the way the Amherst, Mass., group’s visually lackluster performances on last year’s Lollapalooza failed to capitalize on the terrific album “Where You Been.” J Mascis (who basically is Dinosaur Jr.) has a sound--distorted, Neil Young-ish guitars, uncertain vocals and an impressive command of rock dynamics, conveying a sense of isolation and psychic implosion, even when his lyrics speak of contentment.

Whereas other contemporary rockers work with anger and Angst , Mascis makes art out of passivity. Whether on the typically driving opener, “Feel the Pain,” or the contrasting, hypnotic meditation of “Seemed Like the Thing to Do,” he sounds as if he would barely lift a finger to find salvation from his inertia.

But speaking of fingers, boy, can Mascis’ work a guitar. Though not as sonically playful as the last album, “Sound” is marked by deceptively straightforward layers of overdubs that unfold to reveal a rough, fluid facility that is noteworthy in its own right. They also underscore a subtle complexity in the songs’ emotions, reminiscent of the compatible--but more expansive--Smashing Pumpkins. The rewards are here, but with Mascis, you have to do the work to find them.

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New albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).


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