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Bob Mould - Sunshine Rock Music Album Reviews

After a stretch of dark, searching records, the former Hüsker Dü and Sugar leader uses the familiar power trio configuration to find a little peace.

Bob Mould gives away the game with the title of Sunshine Rock, his 13th solo album: After several years in darkness, he’s ready for the light. Darkness is a comfortable place for Mould, who has spent his career picking at scabs and exorcising demons. But he had extra reasons for gloom earlier this decade, when his parents died in quick succession. On the subsequent Beauty & Ruin and Patch the Sky, Mould turned inward, meditating on mortality and loss. “I went through a dark period,” he admitted in a 2016 interview with Fact circa Patch the Sky. “I felt very isolated. I took six months away from the excitement of life to sit and contemplate the meaning of the rest of my life, and here it is.”

Sunshine Rock isn’t a ruminative album. Instead, it’s the place where Mould expresses his design for the rest of his life. For creative and personal reasons, Mould distanced himself from the past after Patch the Sky, decamping from San Francisco to Berlin, where he chose to rebuild his life with an eye toward optimism. He made a conscious decision to try happiness, the resolution at the core of Sunshine Rock in both attitude and sound. Using the great ball of fire in the sky as his lyrical lodestar, Mould has written an album that pulsates with positivity, even during occasional moments of melancholy.

Though bursting with primary colors, Sunshine Rock doesn’t qualify as a pure pop album, even when Mould excavates the fuzz-drenched “Send Me a Postcard,” a continental hit of organ-laced effervescence in the late ’60s for the psychedelic Dutch quartet Shocking Blue. Such tinny AM-pop artifacts may provide Mould with some measure of inspiration, but he’s not attempting to craft bubblegum hooks or even revive the candied rush of Sugar, the 1990s alt-rock outfit that represents his last flirtation with an actual modern rock hit. Instead, Mould works with familiar elements, shaping them so they seem brighter than they did in the recent past.

He returns with the peerless rhythm section of Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy, which has supported him since his 2012 Merge debut, Silver Age. (This is also the live rhythm section of that label’s long-standing flagship band, Superchunk.) A few quieter moments pepper the explosions of noise, and even the roaring guitars are occasionally dressed with keyboards or strings, accents that help the record sparkle. Still, despite these accoutrements, Sunshine Rock is recognizably the work of a power trio, the format that has been Mould’s strength since the days of Hüsker Dü.

On Hüsker Dü’s final album, 1987’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories, Mould admonished his audience: “These are your important years/You’d better make them last,” a sentiment sung with youthful conviction. On Sunshine Rock, Mould asks, “What do we cherish in the final years?,” lacing the question with quiet urgency. Some of what he cherishes is evident through his lyrics, rife with romantic images of afternoons in the park, missed connections, and small victories.

But what really resonates is the music itself, or how Mould continually finds new variations on a formula he’s mined for nearly 40 years. For a while, Mould rejected this volcanic blend of melody, passion, and volume, but over the last decade, he’s reckoned with his past both through book and song, accepting his flaws and strengths. As he’s facing 60, he’s at peace with who he is, but he still writes and plays with the vigor of somebody restless inside. That tension between conception and execution makes all the good energy of Sunshine Rock feel hard-earned and genuine; scars and all, it’s the sound of somebody who has weathered battles and worked to survive.


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