Bob Mould - District Line (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Bob Mould

District Line (2008)


In a recent interview, Bob Mould revealed how, in his time with Hüsker Dü, everyone was scared of him. If District Line was your first experience with Mould's musical output, you might find this hard to believe. That's because the music contained within it exudes a remarkable calm and confidence and if his joyful playing of a few Hüsker songs in recent years is any indication, an acceptance of that turbulent past.

2005's Body of Song marked Mould's return to the guitar after he traded in his six-string for the world of eletronic music. That album saw him using elements of both styles but didn't quite seem to find a plateau where the two spheres of his personality could work in perfect harmony. On District Line, it appears as though he has finally found that happy medium. "Stupid Now" has the roaring guitar of his Hüsker/Sugar days brushing up comfortably against synth and vocal effects to convey a unified pleading sentiment of, "Please listen to me / and don't disagree / Even as we fight / it doesn't matter to me." Even the album's one predominantly electronic song, "Shelter Me" fits the overall tone of the album exceedingly well.

One of the things Hüsker Dü were noted for was their remarkably loud and noisy but distinctly melodic presence of their songs and live shows. The closing track of the album, "Walls in Time" really shows Mould coming full circle in his career. The instrumentation would lead someone to the conclusion it would be the type of song he would have recorded for his first solo outing, Workbook, exploring familiar introspective singer-songwriter territory and indeed the song was written during the same time as Workbook. However, the acoustic guitar, keys and strings are all layered atop each other to create a wall of sound similar to the technique Hüsker Dü would employ but in a much different context. The real success of this song and the best parts of the album in general aren't only their ability to touch upon all Mould's past works, but his ability to use them to forge new ground and not just wallow in mimicry of old glories.

It appeared in the past that there was a certain negative energy that Mould's songs would thrive off of to great cathartic effect but there is a larger sense of working through issues to be found in District Line. Take for instance the lyrics to "Who Needs to Dream": "You plead with yourself but he's leading you on / it's the same thing every time / I am determined not to fall into that trap again / it's the things I need for myself / and not a way to validate." Especially with the proceeding song "Stupid Now," you really get into the thought process of the songs and begin to see the events that shaped the album.

What the "district line" is according to Mould is the first question you get asked in D.C. and that question is what you do for a living. While this album may not have the impact albums like Zen Arcade, Flip Your Wig or even Copper Blue had, within the context of his own career it stacks up as Bob Mould's most fully realized work to date. You can really see how if someone where to ask him what he did for a living he'd only have to show them this album and within it would be an explanation of his entire body of work. If anything, the album gives hope to punks everywhere of the possibility of aging gracefully in their craft without having starting every sentence with "fifteen years ago…"