Dance music and Hüsker Dü's brand of post-punk would seem to be unlikely bedfellows, but that has yet to stop Bob Mould from attempts at perfecting their union. District Line delivers the latest dissertation in cross-pollination and like past projects it’s a bit of a Frankenstein affair. Mould mines the same topical vector of hopeful and morose in his lyrics. Broken and bleeding relationships receive their proper due starting with the opener “Stupid Now,” which moves from cello-dusted dirge to a hard-rocking vocoder bridge heavily glazed in bracing guitar fuzz. D.C. colleague Brendan Canty maintains a metronomic beat on drums and it’s difficult to not imagine him a bit stifled by the particular assignment.
The record reveals an odd assemblage of arguable analogues. “Who Needs to Dream” recalls the grebo sound of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, particularly in Mould’s soaring arpeggiated solo, a thick vapor trail of melodic feedback filling out the fringes. “Again and Again” traces the downward trajectory of another fatalistic relationship, dated keyboards lacing through a wall of acoustic guitars, lock-step drums and downcast piano chords. “Old Highs New Lows” suggests the strangest parallel of all in its superficial similarity to a Dave Matthews Band outtake, replete with lyrics that slip unabashedly into bittersweet sentimentality. “Miniature Parade” is a close second in its curious nod to vintage Seal amidst the swell and plummet of arco cello and swirling orchestral electronics.
Mould of old is more prominent on the one-two-punch of “Return to Dust” and “The Silence Between Us.” Both belie opening electro-acoustic lulls to ramp up into the most guitar-centric tracks on District Line. The Sugar similarities are rife with Bob in full bullroar over a snarling tandem of distortion streams. The latter track even borrows its bass line from his ’90s power trio’s “A Good Idea,” cueing the boosters with a barrage of heavy, flanging guitar atop another trip-hammer Canty beat, keyboards bubbling up briefly in the din.
“Very Temporary” taps the acoustic side of that particular legacy with a simple melodic hook stacked with more strident fretwork and melodrama-riddled lyrics. The most damning element is Mould’s inclusion of “Walls in Time,” an acoustic confessional that’s been in circulation in his live sets since at least the start of the last decade. Tacked on as it is here it can’t help but resemble filler. Still, as with past albums, successive spins go a long way toward absolving the obvious stitch work of Mould’s designs, diverting attention instead to the undeniable chemistry of his songcraft.