Release Date: Mar 25, 2016
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Before Nirvana, even before Pixies, there was Hüsker Dü. Back in the mid-’80s, the Minnesotan trio released a series of albums that, while never troubling the charts, could quite easily be described as game-changers. Records like New Day Rising, Candy Apple Grey and the seminal Warehouse: Songs & Stories married ear-splittingly furious noise with gorgeous melodies, creating a template for an entire genre that came to define the ’90s.
See a Little Light: The Trail of Rage and Melody - Bob Mould’s extolled 2011 autobiography - conjures up feelings of loss, betrayal, love and confusion, but the prevailing notion is most definitely ‘integrity’. Even reading the press release (something which is becoming increasingly more arbitrary) for this record, Bob speaks frankly and openly to whoever is on the other end, as he has continued to do so through his music over the years. Patch The Sky comes on the back of a wave of musical highs, but being Bob Mould, critical success is rarely a product of personal fortune.
Bob Mould’s consistency as a solo artist is uncontested, so much so that it’s increasingly become a challenge to distinguish his most important works. All of his post-Sugar repertoire teeters from acoustic mid-tempo balladry to brash, firebrand rock, though the desired goal in the past six to eight years has been to find beauty in the roughest of conditions. His unspoiled run with Merge has brought back a vigor that had been lost for a good part of the 2000’s, mainly because Mould isn’t too concerned with trying to become something that he’s not.
After a short intro, a familiar sound fills the air – celestial strumming, warm distortion and those unmistakable vocals. Voices in My Head sees Bob Mould wrestling with himself, kicking off his latest record in earnest. An album of deeply personal examinations borne out of a self-imposed six month seclusion, Patch the Sky is the third in a trio of moody, effervescent works which add up to a staggering late-career flourish for the seasoned songwriter.
With rumors of a Hüsker Dü reunion circulating last fall after what amounted to domain spotting akin to Radiohead registering a new legal entity, Bob Mould put such a notion to rest when announcing his latest album, Patch the Sky. Pointing out the website in question is simply a merchandising arm for the revitalization of his former band’s brand, Mould told Stereogum this January: “I got my life over here, man. I never want to take advantage of the fact that I was in that band.” Dreams of Mould, Grant Hart and Greg Norton reconvening after nearly three decades now dismissed, fans of Mould should fondly recall Sugar, the trio he formed with David Barbe and Malcolm Travis in the early 1990s, when considering Patch the Sky.
Bob Mould reconnected with his essential primal roar on 2012's Silver Age, embracing the endless possibilities of a power trio thanks to his allegiance with drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy. A rhythm section every bit as powerful as Hüsker Dü and as nimble as Sugar, Wurster and Narducy provided a needed anchor when life started to get heavy, as it did shortly after the release of Silver Age. Mould's father died, an incident that fueled much of Beauty & Ruin and, after that album's release in 2014, his mother died, too.
No cellos, no club music electrobeats, no acoustic guitar breathers, and no light at the end of the tunnel – precious little, anyhow. Just a classic power trio lineup in the spirit of Midwest post-punk juggernaut Husker Du and its barely-sweetened descendant Sugar, with Bob Mould conjuring the ecstatic rage of his earlier bands for a grim new era, apparently still convinced that the best way to meet crushing hopelessness is by barreling head first through it with a throat-shredding howl and all amps cranked. If you're in a rush – say the drug store is closing and you need to re-up your Lexapro – check "Hands Are Tied," 1:46 of brutally-slashed guitar chords careening downhill, bassist Jason Narducy and light-handed drum pugilist Jon Wurster driving whiplash changes while Mould asks "Can I disappear?" like the white light/white heat is fully upon him.
Having experienced a late career revival in recent years, Bob Mould returns in more reflective mood. No need to panic, Hüsker Dü fans: he’s not forsaken the pace or volume that made his latest efforts feel so unexpectedly glorious (The End Of Things and Pray For Rain retain the buzzsaw brightness of his very finest moments), nor their magnificently contagious sense of purpose. Instead, solo album #11 digs deep into the darkness, exploring loss of life and love through uncharacteristically frank depictions of depression.
It's fair to say that since 2012's Silver Age, Bob Mould has been on quite a roll. 2014's heavier, darker Beauty and Ruin upped the ante even further and now he's back again with Patch the Sky. While Mould, bassist Jason Narducy, and drummer Jon Wurster break no new ground on this, it's enough to just let Mould be Mould—sit back and try to catch your breath on board this speeding rollercoaster.
Leave it to former Hüsker Dü rocker Bob Mould to ruin the party. On “The End of Things”, he compares a birthday party to an act of “gradual decay,” a fitting comparison for a musician who has built his sound in the crevices between the bright and the bleak. Patch the Sky is the third part in an unofficial trilogy of albums that began with 2012’s Silver Age and continued with 2014’s Beauty & Ruin.
If ever there was a case to be made for the late career hot streak, Bob Mould is making it. After spending much of the 2000s lost in a fog of self-examination that didn’t always make for compelling music, Mould roared back in 2012 with Silver Age, a record on which he once again embraced the loud guitars of his storied Hüsker Dü youth. He also appeared to stop fighting against one of his greatest talents: the ability to write perfect pop-punk songs that feel and sound like getting punched in the face (in the best possible way).
Punk-pop godfather returns in fearsome but familiar form. Currently enjoying a prolific midlife resurgence, Bob Mould’s third album in just over three years is billed as the closing chapter in a loosely linked trilogy. As on Beauty & Ruin and Silver Age, the alt.rock elder statesman is working though recent traumatic events on these revved-up confessionals, including the death of his mother.
Rock musician Bob Mould. Rock musician Bob Mould. Bob Mould has done his best work as part of a power trio: Husker Du in the '80s, Sugar in the '90s, and three recent solo recordings, including "Patch the Sky" (Merge). Mould isn't exactly reinventing himself, but his bittersweet music — big, loud, noisy melodies and heavy introspection that never quite tip over into self-pity — projects the renewed confidence of a master at work.
Bob Mould might have been having a self-deprecating chuckle at himself when he named his 2012 record Silver Age, but the alternative-rock torchbearer is undeniably in the midst of a ferocious late-career tear. Having explored subtler, more experimental musical terrain through most of the 2000s, his recent run alongside drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy has been nothing short of pure guitar-rock TNT. At 55, Mould has come full circle, returning to his love for massively melodic alt-punk, and his music continues to undercut his age by a sizable margin.
Bob Mould — Patch the Sky (Merge)The third album in a late life rock catharsis that began with 2012’s Silver Age, Patch the Sky rages again, eloquently and loudly, against the dying of the light. Here as on Silver Age and Beauty & Ruin, Bob Mould shrouds pop hooks in layers of feedback, framing scorched earth lyrics on loss and disaffection in sinuously tuneful melodies. The first half of Patch the Sky leans, possibly, a bit more heavily on hook, the second on exhilarant noise, but it’s a matter of proportion.
The release of a new Bob Mould album, here in 2016, is akin to receiving a letter from one of your oldest friends, the kind of buddy you spent your formative years with before real life conspired to put decades of experience and responsibility as well as many miles and continents between you. And though it's another dispatch from the dark side of human emotion, Mould possesses an almost unique ability to find affirmation and something resembling resolution without ever resorting to self-pity. What's also in evidence is how much fun Mould seems to be having, despite the anger and raw emotion that he's wrestling with.
Although it’s possibly an optical illusion, as these things often are, it sure feels like Bob Mould has been in the midst of a career renaissance lately. 2012’s “Silver Age” was maybe too limited in its range and 2014’s followup, “Beauty & Ruin,” could be a downcast bummer. But both seemed to find him revisited with a sense of purpose and focus that lit a fire under him after too many half-baked albums.
When it comes to rock veterans, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone more authentic than Bob Mould. After bouncing around several labels toward the end of the 2000s Mould finally found a more permanent home with Merge Records back in 2012, and this newly found stability seems to have sparked in him a creative renaissance. Having produced his "return to form" Silver Age in 2012 followed by 2014’s Beauty And Ruin, which still stands as one of his most accomplished albums, both musically and emotionally, Mould succeded in setting the bar high for his next outing.
Turmoil traditionally results in Bob Mould's best work. Judging from Patch the Sky, the 55-year-old ex-Hüsker Dü frontman must've undergone the worst depression of his life. "I've had a solid stretch of hard emotional times," he acknowledges in a monograph accompanying this 12th solo disc, cataloging "more death, relationships ending, life getting shorter." Results including "Lucifer and God" and instant classic "The End of Things" equal Mould's most melodically explosive punk rock since his Eighties heyday in Minneapolis, all abrasive guitar work and barbed lyricism candy-coated by tunefulness.