Bob Mould has become more cheery than he was on brooding, post-Hüsker Dü solo albums such as 1989’s Workbook and 1991’s Black Sheets Of Rain. The 47-year-old Mould now laughs a lot and seems more pragmatic than the guy who swore he’d never play his Minneapolis trio’s tunes again and was all-around gnarly when asked about anything other than his solo career and subsequent band, Sugar. But then again, everybody was pissed off in the ’90s, including fans disappointed in Mould for breaking up Hüsker Dü in order to make acoustic folk/rock and MOR punk. After playing pop/punk with Sugar, Mould dropped the sweetener and made heavy-duty electronic records and crafted complex solo efforts while maintaining the smartly harsh ruminative lyrical stance that made him both a prick and a saint. Suddenly, Mould began to look back, something he seemed incapable of doing. Mould’s current backing band coaxed him into doing Hüsker Dü tunes, which were taped for a documentary DVD, Circle Of Friends (MVD). He also signed to Anti- to release the new District Line, his most varied solo effort of acoustic blues, hard-ass guitars and subtly electronic tracks. And he’s laughing.
Look out, Karen O. On this San Diego trio’s debut, drummer Kristin Gundred proves she’s mastered more than just the Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman’s sneering swagger and come-hither growl. She can also sing. Sounding like a pissed-off bastard child of Grace Slick, Gundred’s voice dominates Humanimals. Whether she’s snarling in sing-speak or breaking out in a bone-rattling wail, every word that crosses her lips quakes with raw emotion. Back it up with some bouncing bass lines and a half-dozen spidery guitar melodies, and it’s as if Jefferson Airplane had been reborn in the swamps of the Mississippi Delta, weaned solely on rotgut moonshine, one-night-stands and Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs. Humanimals works best when it sticks to the minimalist formula, as on the slinky “Nasty Habit” and the cymbal-crashing “Gypsy March,” giving Gundred’s expressive screech a strong melodic counterpoint. But the real highlight is opener “Look Out Young Son,” a dark, chugging anthem of seduction on which Gundred proclaims, “I must be the devil’s daughter/Such a dark father to dwell in me.” So that explains the voice. Sorry, Karen O: Looks like you’re screwed. [www.myspace.com/grandoleparty]
Canadians have a reputation for affability, and first-generation singer/songwriter Basia Bulat, the daughter of a Polish music teacher, is no exception. But that doesn’t mean roiling angst and quiet desperation don’t lick at the edges of Bulat’s debut album, Oh, My Darling (Rough Trade), in spite of its lighthearted feel and the sunny undulations of her golden vocals. According to Bulat, Darling emerges from the quiet hurts suffered when native sweetness brushes up against harsh reality. She recalls a moment when her childhood love of oldies radio was ridiculed by classmates.
“All the kids were into the song ‘Good Vibrations,’ and I thought they were talking about the Beach Boys,” says Bulat on a patio outside the San Francisco venue where she’s performing. “But they were talking about Marky Mark And The Funky Bunch, and I was ostracized. The girl who came to my birthday party and gave me the tape told me I was a big loser for not knowing who they were … There’s darkness on this record! Darkness!”
The fifth record from the one-man outfit previously known as Say Hi To Your Mom is about as bedroom-band as they come. Judging from its lyrical content, there have been long stretches of down time in Eric Elbogen’s bedroom lately. Love lost, love longed-for, love misplaced, love mislaid, love otherwise absent or unaccounted for—every damned song deals with a variation on the grand theme. Even at a brief half-hour and change, The Wishes And The Glitch starts to verge on the banal. What saves it, sort of, is the album’s expansive musical approach. Awash in echo and occasionally saddled with a cross-rhythmic drum-machine track, the music manages to be both open and claustrophobic. Song by song, the approach works, making Wishes sound like the sparse, cold thoughts that flit through your head after a bad breakup. The album reaches its most successful balance of these elements on the chugging “Back Before We Were Brittle,” the keening “We Lost The Albatross” and the willfully enigmatic “Magic Beans And Truth Machines” (at a scant two minutes, it’s the best song here). Still, you wish Elbogen had pared it down a little further; there’s a good EP in here, but not quite enough to prop up even a short album. [www.ilikesayhi.com]
2005’s The Weight Is A Gift found Nada Surf frontman Matthew Caws dealing with the fallout of a toxic relationship. Lucky, the NYC trio’s fifth LP, finds Caws, while apparently still reeling a bit, tentatively dipping his toes back into the pool. Feeling disoriented on the opening “See These Bones” (“I don’t like to call or write, except when it’s too late at night/I mostly just think in the dark”), he seeks solace in music on the lilting “Beautiful Beat” and eventually seems to find peace, if not everlasting happiness, in the prospect of a new love: “I was on the wagon, I thought I was done … But I like what you say/You say, ‘Baby, I only want to make you happy’” (“I Like What You Say”). Lucky is somewhat muted compared to past Nada Surf records—change-of-pace World War I historical sketch “Ice On The Wing” (complete with an olde-tyme oompa-band outro) is really the only uptempo rocker, and powerhouse drummer Ira Elliot occasionally sounds like he’s playing wet Yellow Pages—but it’s so melodic, so lush, so beautiful, there’s nothing missing. A quality outfit from 1996 debut High/Low, Nada Surf took it to The Next Level with 2003’s near-flawless Let Go and has followed it up with two amazing, richly rewarding efforts. How fortunate are we? [www.barsuk.com]