Bob Mould is experiencing a well deserved late career revival that started with 2014’s phenomenal Beauty &Ruin. That album was an exercise in bidding farewell to the past that had haunted him. It cleared away the demons from his days in the fabled post punk group Husker Du. On March 25, Mould and Co. release his 12th solo effort, Patch of Sky. Here again the”Godfather of Alternative” comes out guns a blazing with his unique blend of sonic fury, lyrical brilliance and inescapable hooks.
His collaborators bassist Jason Narducy and drummer John Wurster returned with him to the studio. Both were noteworthy contributors to Beauty and Ruin. This time they both are operate even more prominently with their take no prisoners rhythmic attack that supports Mould in a most spectacular fashion. Mould says of the two, “Jason and Jon are very fluent in all the different languages that I speak, whether it is hardcore, punk, singer/songwriter, power pop or whatever. It stuns me that it is so easy.” That familiarity makes for another fantastic sonic event.
On 2014’s Beauty and Ruin Mould took his last steps away from the past, letting go of the disappointments that occurred when Husker Du imploded. Mould was also emerging from the substance abuse that had brought him to the brink of devastation. “Beauty and Ruin” was a strong and captivating effort. On Patch of Sky the themes become more personal and deal with topics like life and love and deliver frank depictions of depression. Mould in many ways has always grappled with his worst enemy; his own inner doubts and demons. 2014 would prove an overwhelming year for him when first his father died and his mother soon after. Added to their loss was the cratering of his long time relationship with his partner and finding himself single again. The end result was a deep depression that would not seem to lift. Mould uses the writing and recording of the new release as a form of catharsis to leave the dark place he found himself residing.
On Patch of Sky his sunny melodies and muscular delivery provide the cover for darker topics and a definite contrast. That contrast at times is very stark and visceral. The basic premise that inspired the album according to Mould was his belief that,” when people leave Earth, they tear through the sky, and sometimes they rip a hole in it. People get left to try to fix that, you’re gonna have to try to approach that hole, you can’t do it from the ground. Better to fix the hole and stay on this side than to travel though.” The release is one of the ways he looks to patch those holes.
Patch of Sky is another classic Mould outing and a reason for rejoicing among his aficionados. The album takes up where Beauty and Ruin left off. Voices In My Head kicks off with a fantastic wonky distorted guitar. It reminds me of Mould’s efforts on his stellar “Workbook” more specifically “Brasilia Crossed with Trenton”. It is informed by the losses he experienced and the deep depression he encountered, “If I decide to listen to the voices in my head, strange hallucinations I avoid…it is a long drive back.” All of this introspection is backed up with a stunning instrumentation that makes for a satisfying selection.
The End of Things cranks up a buzzkill guitar and Jon Wurster is an animal on the drums. The lyrics weave a tale of a broadside by life and love and the sad outcome. It points out that no one thinks these things will happen to them, “when the flood comes, I thought our house was water tight…opportunity denied.” The song is catharsis on speed dial as Mould reveals the agony he encountered and the struggle back. Hold On explodes out of the speakers recalling the sonic brilliance of Husker Du and mixes in all the experience Mould has gained since. The song advises to hold on for dear life through adversity and wait for the moment to pass, as the lyrics plead,”can you help me please?”
A common musical construct for Mould is to jump right into the action of the song and he utilizes that construct throughout most of the album. On You Say You the song jumps to life with the accompaniment going all in. All of Mould’s sonic signatures are in this selection. Topically he takes to task someone saying one thing and wanting another, “everything you say isn’t so.” The track captures you and doesn’t let go, it is brilliant.
Losing Sleep is a departure from Mould’s signature sonic bag of tricks. Again the interaction on the orchestration is mesmerizing and arrests you with its punch and vigor. Narducy and Wurster are a treat to listen to as they hold nothing back; everything clicks into place making for a very engaging selection. Pray for Rain is a highlight track where again the drums are simply spectacular. The song itself conveys the heavy weight of depression and the strange desire to have everything surrounding you match the feelings of desolation that go along with depression. There is also that eternal desire for depression to end, “why don’t you release me?”
The powerful Lucifer and God is filled with the visceral force of the drums and guitar capturing you and not relenting. The song examines the eternal struggle between the angels and demons all playing out in each individual. It is simple brilliance, as it scratches and itch you didn’t even know you had. Mould again racks up another masterful song on the album. Patch of Sky delivers the goods consistently; there is not a bad track on the release. Daddy’s Favorite and Hands Tied are guitar rampages filled with a poignancy that stays with you long after a listen. Mould perfectly combines the personal with the frenetic guitar hooks making for a very special musical concoction that harkens to all of his best work. Black Confetti also follows in this vein with the dark theme being carried on the shoulders of the amazing accompaniment. The feeling is a bit trippy as it speaks to loss and death and yearning for those past, “… you try and fade away from me, through time, through space, and emotion.”
Losing Time is stellar punk attack. It is crafted beautifully as it stresses that time is fleeting and you have to grab life and live it while you can. The album ends with Monument which is a song where the musical accompaniment truly matches the somber topics of the lyrics. The intro is dirge like in the beginning and them breaks into a signature Mould guitar lick. Not surprisingly it is a song about loss and regret, death and bittersweet reflection, “time will never die to keep our selves alive.” It also seeks the answer for when the pain will end, “when will the sun shine, as it shines on everyone else?” It is the most confessional song of the collection and is akin to Mould closing a door on this episode of his life ready to take up living again. Monument is simply outstanding and an evocative way to draw a melancholy themed album to an end.
Mould is a survivor, grateful for another lease on life and happy to plough in his own field of endeavor. The underlying contradiction is that his having nothing to prove is exactly what makes his works so engaging. It is not bragging if you have done it, and Mould has done many things so very well. On Patch of Sky there may be no earth shattering musical revelations. What is new is Mould’s wiliness to look at his experiences and let the listener into his most personal struggles. In addition the music is informed by Mould following his original punk ethos and that is what makes the songs so enjoyable; they are concise, powerful and engaging. The album will draw you back time and time again with alluring hook laden songs. I again look forward to the next musical chapter Mr. Mould and company create.