It’s a bit premature and maybe even a little naive to throw the ‘album of the year’ so I will try and refrain from from throwing that title for Bob Mould’s Patch The Sky. Ive thrown that title around so much in most of the reviews I’ve done in 2016 so far, but for only being a few months in, there’s been some fantastic releases. With quite a few high profile albums coming later this year, I seriously dread the year end list where I’ll have to narrow it down. Looking back at each of the records I’ve dropped that title on, I can see some sort of theme. Nostalgia.
David Bowie’s Blackstar made me reflect upon one of my favorite artist’s life and career. Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression felt like a sentimental journey coming to a close, and Yuck’s Stranger Things payed homage to all the music I was obsessed with in my youth. Each of those records connected with me on a subconscious level, commanding me to look at the past in some kind of way. This brand of nostalgia seals the deal for me, even if I’m not completely sold on the song itself. If an album can take me back to a simpler time in my life upon my first listen, then it’s kind of automatically good in my eyes. Is that even a fair assessment when critiquing records? As a writer, I share my opinion on music to act as a guide to someone who is on the fence about giving an album a proper listen, but what good is the recommendation if my opinion is based on my personal nostalgia?
The nostalgia conundrum has arguably plagued the career of Bob Mould since Hüsker Dü called it quits in 1988. With Mould’s other band Sugar in the early 90s and throughout his solo albums, most fans can’t help but compare everything he has done to his works in Hüsker Dü. I’m sure it’s very flattering that so many people hold those six albums up as some golden standard of Alternative Rock, but when an artist moves on, maybe the listener should move on as well. Or at least let each endeavor stand on it’s own merits.
On Mould’s latest record Patch The Sky, it sounds like he has made peace with the pressure by focusing on the strengths of his song writing and performance. The opening track and lead single “Voices In My Head” has the wall of guitars Hüsker Dü was known for, the catchy ear worm chorus of his Sugar days, yet the diverse maturity of his previous solo outings, signifying that his craftsmanship has not weakened in the slightest during his near forty year run as an artist. Despite delivering bright and infectious hooks, thematically it’s a dark album of dealing with loss, missed connections, and facing inner demons. On paper it’s very bleak and downtrodden but even at it’s darkest, it never feels like a chore to listen to thanks to a shimmering hook being right around every corner.
In the past, I’ve always got the impression Mould was dancing around the legacy of Hüsker Dü.
He knew exactly what the fans wanted but he didn’t want to diminish his artistic integrity for the sake of fan service. It’s a slippery slope and many artists have fallen victim to same dilemma. With that said, Patch The Sky has the Hüsker Dü nuance everyone is looking for, but refined for a modern audience. Mould isn’t a snotty punk-turned-alt rocker, instead he’s a 55 year old artist who has been around the block more times than he can count, and wants to make the music that meets his own personal criteria, while maintaining his fan’s expectations.
Patch The Sky has a sense of authenticity making it feel very natural and organic. Mould has seen his share of hardships over the years but instead of sulking and becoming an angst driven, grumpy old man, he has evolved into an even greater artist that expands upon what works and fine tunes what doesn’t. There is however, a certain feeling of nostalgia that permeates the record, but it’s a reflective nostalgia that doesn’t weigh anything down. In fact, the strong sense of familiarity just may be one of the components that brightens up the dark themes some of the heavy laden songs take on.
Overall Patch The Sky is a fantastic record made up of sophisticated alternative rock song writing, that never sinks into the dreaded “Dad Rock” category most established artists in their 50s fall into. I can’t really think of anything overly negative to say about any of it. Most of the songs are of a medium tempo and the lush wall of guitars production can sometimes make the tracklisting a little muddy until you’ve listened all the way through a few times. But to be fair, not only does Mould’s other records do the same thing, but so does he albums from most other OG Alt-rockers of his status. I will go as far as saying Patch The Sky just might be my new favorite Bob Mould solo album. I don’t want to say it’s another contender for Album Of The Year for me in fear of sounding like a broken record, but I will say that it sure hits all the right feels in all the right places, just like those other records I’ve nominated this year so far.
Aaron (or Coop) is a freelance writer, multi-instrumentalist and overall lover of all things music. As an advocate for indie record labels and artists, he is passionate about local scenes and do-it-yourself artistry. If it’s good, it’s good. If it’s bad, he’s not afraid to explain why.