Bob Mould Band
815 V St. NW
Washington, DC, 20001
Doors 7:00 PM
Bob Mould Band
The cliché that circulated after the 2016 election foretold a new artistic golden age: Artists would transform their anger and anxiety into era-defining works of dissent in the face of authoritarianism.
Yet Bob Mould calls his new album Sunshine Rock.
It’s not because Mould—whose face belongs on the Mount Rushmore of alternative music—likes the current administration. His decision to “write to the sunshine,” as he describes it, comes from a more personal place – a place found in Berlin, Germany, where he’s spent the majority of the last three years. Here Mould would draw inspiration from the new environments.
“Almost four years ago, I made plans for an extended break,” Mould explains. “I started spending time in Berlin in 2015, found an apartment in 2016, and became a resident in 2017. My time in Berlin has been a life changing experience. The winter days are long and dark, but when the sun comes back, all spirits lift.”
These three years in Berlin would quite literally shed new light on Mould’s everyday mindset.
“To go from [2011 autobiography] See a Little Light to the last three albums, two of which were informed by loss of each parent, respectively, at some point I had to put a Post-It note on my work station and say, ‘Try to think about good things.’ Otherwise I could really go down a long, dark hole,” he says. “I’m trying to keep things brighter these days as a way to stay alive.”
That makes Sunshine Rock as logical a product of the current climate as any rage-fueled agit-rock. Variations on the word “sun” appear 27 times in five different songs over the course of the album’s 37 minutes. To hear Mould tell it, the theme developed early.
“‘Sunshine Rock’ was such a bright, optimistic song, and once that came together, I knew that would be the title track, and that really set the tone for the direction of the album,” Mould says. “It was funny, because writing with that as the opener in mind, it was like, ‘This is not Black Sheets of Rain.’”
Mould’s famously dour 1990 solo album still serves as a point of reference: a title track that sets the tone for the album, though on Sunshine Rock, it’s the opposite of Rain.
This being Bob Mould, Sunshine Rock still has darker moments. “Lost Faith,” for example, has him quietly lamenting, “I’ve lost faith in everything / Everything, everything.” The Mould of 1990 may have wallowed in the feeling, but the Mould of 2018 jumps into a hooky, bombastic chorus where he sings, “Really gotta stop this now, this is your / Last chance to turn around, I know we / All lose faith from time to time, you / Better find your way back home.”
Those cathartic moments in “Lost Faith” foreground a surprising element of Sunshine Rock: Mould’s rawest vocals since his throat-shredding days in Hüsker Dü. It started when Mould and the band—drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy—had extra time in the studio with Mould’s longtime engineer, Beau Sorenson. They settled on a cover of Shocking Blue’s “Send Me a Postcard,” and Mould decided to lay down vocals right there.
“This was the first real vocal take during the session. I walked to the mic, not knowing how I would sing these words. Three minutes later, I went back into the control room and everyone was like, ’What the fuck, that was wild!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good!’ That was the only take, and that’s what you hear on the album.”
“After that moment, I learned to let go and be more spontaneous with my vocals. Because of that, there’s way more emotion on this album. Perhaps I was ironing some of that out in the past by double- and triple-tracking vocals, hoping for some perfect pop result.”
The rawness of the vocals counterbalances the strings that appear on five songs. Although Mould has experimented with small-scale string accompaniment on previous albums, Sunshine Rock ambitiously incorporates an 18-piece orchestra.
“I had this idea as we were right up on recording, ‘Why not take some of these extra melodies that I’ve got kicking around and build them all into string arrangements?’” Mould says. “I like really big, dense chordal structures and rhythm guitars, those layers that come at you. This time, I was just trying to be mindful of adding more melody.”
Mould wrote the string parts, which collaborator Alison Chesley transcribed for the various instruments with some input from consultant Paul Martens. The Prague TV Orchestra spent a day recording the parts while he listened remotely from his home studio in San Francisco. The process came together so easily, Mould laughs, “It’s going to be tough not to use them now.”
It all amounts to Mould’s catchiest, grabbiest album since Copper Blue, the acclaimed 1992 debut of his trio Sugar. Back then, Mould’s work in Hüsker Dü, as a solo artist, and in Sugar helped define the sound of guitar rock in the alternative age. Sunshine Rock finds him doing it again for an era that has ostensibly eschewed rock.
“I’ve heard this thing about ‘guitars are dead’ at least five times, and they always seem to come back,” he says. “For better or worse, this is what I do. I think there’s a lot of people trying to aspire to make great albums. That’s really what this is about: trying to make great rock albums for people because there’s not that many anymore.”
Maybe that cliché about great art coming from strife could be true—but who would’ve guessed it’d be called Sunshine Rock?
“Sunshine Rock is one helluva way to wrap up the busiest decade of my career,” he shares. “The autobiography, the Disney Hall tribute show, reissues of several albums from my catalog, three current rock band albums, several world tours, and now this new album — I’m humbled and grateful to still be making new music while celebrating my lifetime songbook.”
Merge Records will release Sunshine Rock on February 8, 2019.
Since debuting in 2008, Titus Andronicus [hereafter +@] has been conditioning faithful listeners to always expect only the unexpected, consistently zigging where others would zag and maintaining a steadfast dedication to fearless ambition. With the March 2 release of the new studio album A Productive Cough on Merge Records, +@ has executed the most shocking departure yet—but only if, as ever mercurial singer-songwriter Patrick Stickles insists, “you haven’t been paying attention.”
In a move that may infuriate the black-denim-and-PBR set, A Productive Cough finds +@ setting aside the leadfooted punk anthems of yesteryear in favor of a subtler, more spacious approach that pushes Stickles’ soul-baring songwriting to the fore, creating a conversational intimacy between artist and audience with which previous +@ efforts had only flirted.
“[+@] records have always had their fair share of ballads,” Stickles explains, “but they were always buried amidst a lot of screaming. Now, they are the cornerstones. Punk rock is nice, but it is but one tool in the toolbox from which I pull to achieve my artistic purpose, and that purpose has always been communication and validation. This time, perhaps I can more effectively talk to the people if I am not so busy yelling at them.”
The mission of A Productive Cough is made apparent from the first bars of opening track “Number One (In New York).” As a twinkling tableau of piano and dulcet horns unfolds, Stickles unleashes a breathless and unceasing 64-bar verse with subject matter as sprawling as the kitchen-sink arrangement, which grows to include sparkling guitars, twinkling bells, and uplifting choral vocals as Stickles searches desperately for the strength to carry on through an increasingly violent and frightening world.
This new restraint sacrifices none of +@’s singular intensity, from the merciless lyrical onslaught of “Number One (In New York)” to the blistering guitar solos which accompany the swaggering (Crazy) Horseplay of rock band workouts “Real Talk” and “Home Alone” to the disarmingly passionate commuter hymn “Mass Transit Madness (Goin’ Loco’).” Even the surprisingly groovy “Above the Bodega (Local Business)” hides, beneath its loose and spontaneous facade of zesty brass and propulsive congas, a pained admission of secret shame, despairing the challenge of keeping the dark side concealed before the ever-judgmental eye of the big city.
Across the record’s seven tracks, +@ remains as audacious as ever, a fact demonstrated with particular defiance by “(I’m) Like a Rolling Stone,” which, through some considerate flipping of pronouns, reimagines Bob Dylan’s evergreen anthem as a self-eviscerating confessional, a chilling reminder that when you point the finger, three more fingers point back at you.
A Productive Cough was recorded by longtime +@ producer Kevin McMahon at Marcata Recording in New Paltz, NY, with an enviable cast of 21 elite musicians whose diverse backgrounds and skill sets allow +@ to incorporate far-reaching musical styles from country to rap to soul to jazz. Even amongst such luminaries as veteran pianist Rick Steph (Cat Power, Lucero, Hank Williams Jr.) and esteemed cellist Jane Scarpantoni (R.E.M., Bob Mould, Lou Reed), listeners may be most struck by what is sure to be a star-making turn on lead vocals from Brooklyn singer Megg Farrell for the aging-punk’s lament “Crass Tattoo,” as the perennially raspy Stickles humbly steps away from the microphone to enable what may be +@’s most unapologetically gorgeous track yet.
Throughout, Stickles and McMahon weave a dense, luscious tapestry of sound that will generously reward dedicated listeners, revealing new layers with each successive spin. For the first time, the orchestral flourishes and glistening details that have always colored +@ records are unobscured by walls of distortion, beckoning the listener further and further inward, until they are fully ensconced in a warm cocoon of sonic healing.
“The last record [2015’s rock opera The Most Lamentable Tragedy] was very much a culmination of all that had come before—closing, or really slamming, a lot of doors,” Stickles explains, “and to move forward, I had to look for a new door to walk through, only to find a window which had been cracked open all along. [A Productive Cough] is the gentle breeze which had been wafting through, which I can breathe in fully at last.”
Suddenly, Stickles grows serious: “We are a world at war,” he proclaims, clearing his long-suffering throat, “and if I know not the way to end or to win this way, perhaps I can comfort and nurture those who suffer through it. Perhaps I am not a good soldier, but I will strive to be a good nurse.”