A quarter century after Robert Zimmerman left Minnesota for New York City and a new life as Bob Dylan, the state produced another musical movement, an alternative rock and an alternative pop explosion that gave us Prince, the Replacements, and Husker Du. Prince is the most recognized name, but both the Replacements and Husker Du would end up being as influential as the Purple One.
While the early ’80s Minneapolis scene spat out both bands, the Replacements and Husker Du represented opposing ends of the post-punk spectrum. As “the ‘Mats” ditched their hardcore punk leanings early on and proceeded to craft something much more rootsy and song-oriented, Husker Du played frantic bursts of fractured-but-melodic punk and laid the template for the heavier alt-rock of the next 20 years in the process.
The band would not make it into the next decade intact, but leader Bob Mould has been soldiering on ever since, releasing solo albums of adventurous power-pop (“Workbook”) and fronting the edgy alternative trio Sugar during a brief early ’90s run.
At 55, you might think Mould had slowed down, dropped the aggressive tempos, and cleaned up the guitar tones in a manner befitting an alt-rock elder statesman. That’s not what the freshly released “Patch the Sky” (Merge) is all about, however. This is Mould in full frontal assault mode, marrying yearning-infused melodies to a wall-of-guitars approach that refines the punk aesthetic without sacrificing any of its raw fury.
As was the case on 2012’s “Silver Age” and 2014’s “Beauty and Ruin,” drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Jason Narducy join Mould throughout “Patch the Sky,” and they create an appropriately ebullient and cacophonic din, lending an early Who-like urgency to up-tempo opener “Voices in My Head” and making like a Cheap Trick/Big Star mash-up during the power-pop gem “Losing Sleep.”
It’s the balance between the gleeful heavy guitars that propel tunes like “You Say You” and the epic dirge “Lucifer and God” and the art-pop pieces like “Black Confetti” and “Monument” that Mould’s brilliance can be spotted. He may have helped to launch a few thousand blitzkrieg-bopping punk bands in his youth, but the older wiser Mould is up to something more substantial. Call it art-punk for the thinking man.
Animal Collective’s “Painting With” (Domino) has been out for a few weeks now, but I finally had time to devote to it over the past week, when it became a preferred night ride home soundtrack, its dense polyphony and giddy aural histrionics making for compelling brain candy and chasing away sleepiness.
The trio has done it again – “Painting With” packs everything cool about modern electronic pop into dense soundscapes and boasts a sense of musical adventure more akin to prog rock than to the indie pop genre that claims Animal Collective as its own.
Avey Tare, Geologist and Panda Bear – no, not the names their mommas gave them – go for broke this time around, making music that consistently measures up to their finest album, 2009’s “Merriweather Post Pavillion,” and surpasses it when the band decides to revel in a heretofore well-guarded love for the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
The sonic equivalent of vibrant Technicolor informs the album from the opening synth gurgles and contrapuntal vocal arrangement heralding “FloriDada,” and the colors just keep coming, fast and furious, the Todd Rundgren-like “Lying in the Grass” representing a mid-album peak, and the multi-earworm infested “Summing the Wretch” offering what might well be a career peak, so brilliant is the interplay between the voices and Geologist’s cluttered but deeply musical mix.
Animal Collective remains at the head of the indie-pop class. We’ll still be listening to “Painting With” in 20 years, and growing accustomed to referring to it as one of its era’s finest albums.
Finally, an album that is “record of the week” and just might end of being one of the best of the year: Ray LaMontagne’s “Ouroboros” (Stone Dwarf), a collection that moves from startling intimacy to billowing grandiosity with clear direction and an unflagging sense of purpose.
Imagine Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” married to Mercury Rev’s “Deserter’s Songs,” all of it overseen by the keen production eye of My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, who clearly sees LaMontagne for what he is – his generation’s Tim Buckley. Buy this one. It’s transcendent.