By the late '90s, J Mascis had been through the wringer and back with his band Dinosaur Jr., suffering through over a decade of acrimonious lineup shifts, transitioning from hand-to-mouth indie labels to the majors, and generally riding the waves of the mainstream commodification of alternative rock that defined much of the decade for many fringe-dwelling rock bands. Seventh album Hand It Over followed a three-year break after 1994's Without a Sound, a restrained and inconsistent album that nevertheless gave the band their biggest commercial success. Without a Sound also happened after the departure of longtime drummer Murph, leaving Mascis to track all the drum parts himself and return Dinosaur Jr. to the virtual solo-project status it held for their 1991 major-label debut, Green Mind. The live chemistry of the original lineup would make their material after a 2007 reunion some of their most unexpectedly strong, but from the catalog that came about from Mascis' control-freak tendencies meeting major-label excess, Hand It Over is simultaneously the exhausted last gasp of a fading project and a largely overlooked gem. My Bloody Valentine's Kevin Shields co-produced the album, and his experimental attitude towards guitar tone and sonic atmospheres can be heard in the spectrum of fuzz that colors Mascis' solos and walls of riffage alike. The lazy drifting tempos, Mellotron flutes, and layers of distorted and acoustic guitars on "I Don't Think" all bring to mind the softer side of MBV's style (not to mention guest vocals from Belinda Butcher on the song's chorus). While the songwriting, lyrics, and soloing are all signature Mascis, there's a dreaminess that was absent from the records leading up to it. This dreamy haze compliments Mascis' eternal-slacker songwriting energy on the yearning "Can't We Move This" and the ambling "Loaded." In addition to the shoegaze undercurrents, the flirtations with extended instrumentation that began with symphonic touches on 1993's Where You Been reach full strength here. This can be as subtle as the stabbing strings on "Can't We Move This" or as blatant as the piccolo trumpet that takes center stage in "I'm Insane." Mascis never loses touch with his guitar-wizard roots, offering up eight-minute album centerpiece "Alone" as Hand It Over's testament to shadowy, Neil Young & Crazy Horse-modeled melancholy. Upon initial release, the record was all but buried by a complete lack of promotion, and it would be ten years before the Dinosaur namesake was reactivated with a reunion of the classic lineup. Despite poor sales, Hand It Over was a hidden highlight, with more good songs, gnarly shredding, and wildly ambitious ideas than most other chapters of Dinosaur Jr.'s ever-weird major-label period.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas