Bob Mould

Modulate

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It's possible to understand, sympathize, and agree with every one of Bob Mould's reasons for making Modulate, without liking it all that much. Modulate appeared in 2002 after a long period of musical inactivity from Mould. Following 1998's The Last Dog and Pony Show, he retreated from music, spending several years writing wrestling scripts while working on his next move -- a move he telegraphed with the promotion of Last Dog and the album itself, which announced itself as the last of its kind. And it was. Although the songs on Modulate are clearly the creation of the man who penned classic tunes for Hüsker Dü and Sugar, they're deliberately dressed differently -- they're insular, one-man creations (even more so than Workbook), as that man tries to expand his art by grappling with new technologies and trends and a whole bunch of electronic instruments and computers. At times -- and these are front-loaded toward the beginning of the album -- he's more interested in what these new tools can do than using them to complete his songs, which illustrates just how determined he is to find a new way to make music. It's admirable that an artist is so determined to grow, even if it's a self-conscious affair, and it makes sense that a musician as serious and dedicated as Mould would make an album like this, but it doesn't erase the fact that Modulate is the sound of growing pains. Since Mould is an accomplished songwriter, there are some good songs here (although there are many more that miss the mark), but the defining characteristic of this album is not the songs, but the approach to the songs -- the way he layers on sequencers and vocoders as if each subsequent overdub brought him further into new sonic territory, even when his writing hasn't changed that much. He has faith that a new way of writing will change the very character of his writing, and while that may have helped him write the record (we will never know -- it's the kind of question only an artist can answer), it hasn't rejuvenated his music. The most surprising thing about Modulate is that it feels like it could have been released the same year as The Last Dog and Pony Show without anything being any different. Not that this album needed to be visionary, but Mould certainly wanted this to be a new start for his music. In the long run, it very well may prove to be that, but as an individual album in his discography, it's one of his least-satisfying efforts.

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