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Bob Mould - Body of Song

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Artist: Bob Mould

Album: Body of Song

Label: Yep Roc

Review date: Jul. 27, 2005

Several years in the drafting, Bob Mould’s new album Body of Song carries a flotilla of fan anticipation in its wake. Over that pivotal span, Mould sharpened his personal focus. He traded in the self-hate of his younger years, burned off the fat with a rigorous diet and workout routine, and delved deep into electronica, reinventing himself as one half of the DC-area DJ duo Blowoff.

Mould has long been an expert at fusing buzzsaw fretwork with melody-rich chassis. But that coupling of aggression and tuneful economy is one of the chief attributes sometimes compromised on Body of Song. Rhythms are often regrettably staid with Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty (or on several tracks, Matt Hammon) handcuffed to relentless and often pummeling backbeat duties that remain rigid from tune to tune. Former Sugar bandmate Dave Barbe and cellist Amy Domingues also lend helping hands.

The record starts strong with “Circles,” a slowly coruscating dirge fleshed with the cascading guitar crunch and downcast imagery that are Mould’s stock and trade. The clouds break abruptly with “Shine Your Light,” a dance-friendly number buttressed by grinding guitars, swirling electronics and soaring cyclic lyrics. “I Am Vision, I Am Sound” works off a similar perpetual loop of pogo-stick drums, flanging guitars and Mould’s own nasalized vocal. It’s catchy with singsong verses, a propulsive head-bobbing beat and crackling guitar loops, but comes off less than the sum of its parts.

Miasmatic anthems like “Underneath Days” and “Paralyzed” ring loud with the lingering caramelized crust of Sugar circa Beaster. The old Mould angst and umbrage is present in full effect and it’s a welcome return to topical form with verses like: “You wouldn’t let me near you / so I settled for the fear that you’d be happy with me six feet in the ground / so if I try to make it right and if I found my appetite / I’d eat away at all the pain I seem to bring to you.”

“Best Thing” and “Missing You” continue the embrace of unrepentant, undiluted post-punk petulance. Frontal assaults of distortion-dipped guitars, propulsive melodies and harmonizing vocals deploy on radio-approved pop songs. But the album falters again with “Days of Rain,” where echo-treated vocals and more earnest sentiment ladle over a cluttered canvas of metronomic strings and drums. Even the injection of stinging guitar in the closing minutes can’t counteract the damage done. “High Fidelity” works better, but it still wavers with sunshine-suffused sentimentality and the dramatic chimes/organ break feel overwrought.

“Always Tomorrow” registers among the most ambient of tracks, with Mould’s vocals heavily filtered across a backdrop of writhing and biting guitar tendrils, throbbing bass and watercolor synths. It’s an interesting experiment, but again an uneasy fit. The nakedly acoustic cum rocking “Gauze of Friendship” and closing guitar rave-up “Beating Heart the Prize” – each echoing elements of Neil Young – open still other points of ingress into his present psyche and further tip the album out of the red and into the black.

Mould is hitting the road again this fall with a band in tow, the lengthy self-imposed embargo ended. These songs are slated as the bread and butter along with a few others running the gamut of his career. I have a feeling they’ll play even better live, free from the undermining excesses of the studio.

By Derek Taylor

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