The Austin Chronicle

Gift Guide: Bob Mould

Distortion: 1989-2019 (Edsel/Granary Music)

By Michael Toland, December 4, 2020, Music

Collecting virtually every scrap of recorded music from alternative rock godfather Bob Mould, barring this year's Blue Hearts and his guitar contributions to the Hedwig & the Angry Inch soundtrack, the 24-CD Distortion: 1989-2019 frames the 60-year-old post-punk pioneer's decades of service.

Post-Hüsker Dü, Mould refined the sound that launched 1,000 alt-rock acts: guitar-centric, melodic, balancing angst and anger with hope and catharsis. The masterful, semi-acoustic Workbook, underrated electric meltdown Black Sheets of Rain, and all four Sugar albums arguably feature his peak writing, singing, and playing. 1996's insular self-titled LP and paint-by-numbers The Last Dog and Pony Show act as his (temporary) kiss-offs to raging rock before Mould embraced the dance music that soundtracked exploration of his gay identity.

Much-maligned guitar/electronica hybrid Modulate holds up surprisingly well, while lost classic Body of Song, which delegates electronics to a supporting role, represents this period at its best. A lone record by Blowoff, his dance party partnership with Rich Morel, comes in a close second. Only 2002's listless Long Playing Grooves from synth-happy alter ego LoudBomb rate the ire directed at this creative arc.

Mould moved away from dance music with the transitional District Line and Life and Times, both worth rediscovery, but Silver Age reenergized his power trio mojo with a firestorm as tuneful and powerful as anything he's ever done. Beauty & Ruin and Patch the Sky kept the flame lit until last year's Sunshine Rock, further proof that Mould maintains influential goods for subsequent generations. The set closes a circle with his recent take on a seminal influence, the Buzzcocks' "I Don't Mind."

Distortion: 1989-2019 houses loads of extra material, with four concert CDs and two more that round up every B-side, compilation track, tribute album cut, guest appearance, and "Dog on Fire," original theme to The Daily Show, but nothing previously unreleased. Yet taking Bob Mould's entire oeuvre in context grounds every artistic move in a distinct vision, solidifying the status of his acknowledged classics and encouraging reevaluation of his near-misses.

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