Has any voice been done worse by production than Bob Mould's? In retrospect, the best thing about his 2005 return to guitar rock after an electronica sidebar was the Auto-Tune exception so many fans originally hated, "(Shine Your) Light Love Hope," which abstracted his unique pipes into an instrument of pure strobe pop, proving how indifferent his melodic instincts are to style. Mould's catharsis either sneaks up on you or doesn't, in any mode, and fans hang on for that off-color chord change that will suddenly open up new worlds and bring them crashing down.

Life and Times is Mould's return to acoustic alt-MOR, filled with flourishes of distortion, chamber music and electronic processing. Like last year's muffled District Line, it's still about the lyrics and the sour severity Mould never shies away from. The killer track here is "Wasted World," a perfect sonic balance of his unplugged, hardcore and electro heart chambers, which turns punk on its head to lament a beautiful world you're missing with so much morose agonizing—in this case, staring into a computer screen. Or is it about a disappeared and innocent prisoner of the War on Terror, who inadvertently clicked on the wrong thing and has been renditioned to oblivion? Mould is thrilling when stepping outside himself in song, even if he seems to be finding his feet outside his sound, whatever that might be.

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Peter S. Scholtes