Album of the Week: Bob Mould, 'Sunshine Rock'

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Bob Mould, 'Sunshine Rock'
Bob Mould, 'Sunshine Rock' (Merge Records)

I joked on Twitter a few years ago that Bob Mould's grand plot is to release the same album every few years, only to have it hailed each time as "his most urgent yet." While his new album, Sunshine Rock, moves with his same intensity as ever, there's a slight trace of tranquility that makes it - for real this time! - one of his most purely delightful records since his Sugar days.

The melodicism of Sugar and the jagged edges of Husker Du, and the dichotomy between the two, have largely defined Mould's entire solo career since the 1990s. Some of his solo albums handle this balance better than others: for as cathartic as it may feel to be pummeled into exhaustion over the course of an album, some Mould records ultimately don't add up to much more beyond that. He's constructed some incredible templates, but it's still a template, and his records sometimes dip into paint-by-numbers territory.

Happily, Sunshine Rock, while not avoiding these tropes altogether, rides this line skillfully. Rather than relying on a specific vibe or energy, it has the most individually memorable songs than any of his record since perhaps 2005's Body of Song. Rather than being a collection of really rippin' tunes that support a central track like "The Descent" or "I Don't Know You Anymore," there's a whole lot more that immediately jumps out to the ear.

Part of me went into this album expecting "sunshine" to be a misnomer for the music within, but beyond the title track, there's an additional three(!) songs mentioning the sun, including the memorable "Sunny Love Song," the contemplative "Camp Sunshine," and the string-laden "Western Sunset." In the album's second half, "Lost Faith" seems like a contender for anthem status, while his trademark high-tempo rock tunes like "What Do You Want Me to Do" and "I Fought" are memorable as well.

The entire album is full of gorgeous string arrangements, provided by the Prague TV Orchestra, and are a nice expression of Mould's fondness for baroque pop. On the side of more traditional rock instrumentation, bassist Jason Narducy and drummer Jon Wurster continue to attack their instruments with striking intensity.

When I say that Sunshine Rock is Bob Mould's most urgent album in years, I mean it this time! Ask me again in 2-3 years, and we'll see if he manages to do it all over again.

Resources


Bob Mouldn - Official Site

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