Bob Mould

District Line

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It's tempting to call District Line a return to form for Bob Mould -- tempting, but not quite accurate. Mould might have started to wander into the electronic wilderness after his 1998's The Last Dog and Pony Show, a self-conscious farewell to rock & roll, but he revived his roaring guitars on 2005's Body of Song, so calling District Line a return to rock isn't right, even if its release on the maverick label Anti- suggests that this album may hark back to his Hüsker Dü years. Quite the contrary, actually: while there are plenty of guitars and molten pop hooks, Mould has yet to shake his inexplicable fixation on vocoders, and "Shelter Me" is a straight-up disco track, elements that he picked up in the years since Sugar's disbandment. Such exploration is at the heart of Mould's restless artistic spirit, a restlessness he's possessed since Hüsker -- never forget that Zen Arcade was a concept album -- but what's striking about District Line is that Mould sounds calmer here, even relaxed. That's not to say that he sounds complacent or that the passion has drained from his music, but for the first time he's able to mesh all his disparate musical interests into one cohesive album, one that sounds diverse yet unified. For as many different styles and moods as there are here -- "Stupid Now" surges upon coiled emotions, "Who Needs to Dream" and "The Silence Between Us" recall Sugar's sweet pop, "Return to Dust" is a cavalcade of sound, "Old Highs New Lows" is the closest he's ever gotten to a full-on adult alternative ballad -- District Line never sounds showy. It's a consolidation of Mould's considerable strengths, an album that showcases his gifts as a writer and record-maker, one that touches upon almost every phase of his career, yet it's filtered through a maturity that feels vital because of its unadorned honesty. Bob Mould isn't forcing himself to make music like he did when he was in his twenties, nor is he working through a series of ideas as he did in the early 2000s; on District Line, he's pulling all these strands together, and it makes for his strongest and best album in years.

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