Bob Mould: Modulate

When former Hüsker Dü and Sugar singer-songwriter Bob Mould released The Last Dog & Pony Show in 1998, he announced that he was about to close the book on his signature sound, retiring the shimmering, direct, guitar-driven rock that long ago became his instantly identifiable trademark. In spite of four years of advance warning, it's still jarring to hear Mould follow through on his promise. Split into distinct halves—the first dominated by electronic music, the second a bit more familiar and rocking—the self-released Modulate seems designed to prepare the singer's fans for the identity crisis that's set to dominate his output throughout a busy 2002. In June, Mould will release an all-electronic album using the alias LoudBomb, while September sees a more familiar collection of intimate acoustic songs, but in the meantime, Modulate finds him bounding around various points on the spectrum to varying degrees of creative success. There are Bob Mould songs somewhere in the album's electronics-driven first half, which chops up his sound, reconstructs it, and ultimately drowns it out with loops and effects. When portioned out as 100-second instrumental interludes like "Without?," the electronic material's cluttered clatter can be hauntingly pretty, showcasing Mould's heretofore-hidden studio skills while revealing new shades of his many-colored melancholy. But when the bells and whistles are slathered over his distinct songwriting voice, the clash of sensibilities does a disservice to both. More accessible and direct, and still a compelling deviation from Mould's '90s norm, second-half highlights like "Soundonsound" should serve as comfort food for skittish fans, because what comes before begs for a bonus disc of stripped-down demos, so fans can decide if songs are there at all.

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