13 albums into his solo career and Bob Mould is showing no signs of letting off the gas. Where some artists at this stage of their careers might find themselves coasting or settling into comfortable routines, the one-time Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman, on the other hand, has been experiencing something of a late-career hot streak for nearly a decade now. Ever since turning his attention back to rock music, after pushing back against it for a while in favor of exploring both electronic music and a side gig DJing, the ever-restless Mould has seemingly reconciled with his musical past and his natural ability for creating blistering pop music.

Rather than turning out derivative and predictable albums though, he instead continues to refine and build off of his established sound, presenting a fresh and modern take on it while hammering out some memorable tunes along the way. Taken at face value, Sunshine Rock doesn't deviate much from his approach of pairing sticky hooks with crunching riffs played at whiplash tempos and punishing volume. But there are enough new wrinkles added to it to set it apart 2016's Patch the Sky.

His longtime rhythm section of Jason Narducy on bass and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on drums is thankfully back in tow, and the years spent together touring and recording have turned them into an especially tight and lean trio. The music they make together rips and songs like 'I Fought', 'Thirty Dozen Roses', and the title-track match Patch the Sky note-for-note in terms of their bracing energy, while 'What Do You Want Me To Do' qualifies as possibly one of the better songs that Sugar never wrote.

Sunshine Rock ambitiously incorporates an 18-piece orchestra, which in itself sounds like an indulgent and excessive idea. But Mould isn't exactly straying into prog territory or attempting to write a post-punk rock opera. Making use of leftover harmonies, he wrote the string parts himself and the results are tasteful without overcrowding the music itself. The title track and 'Final Years' in particular benefit from the added arrangements as the strings bring the right amount of emotional heft to each without dissolving into cheesiness.

If you're at all familiar with Mould's work (and, if for some reason you aren't, Sugar's excellent debut Copper Blue is an perfect place to start) then you know he's made a career out of writing some truly devastating songs that often scrape the depths of emotional despair. As its title suggests, Sunshine Rock aims to present a sunnier outlook. After writing an autobiography and also two albums that were informed by loss of each of his parents, he relocated to Berlin a couple of years ago to process and work through his emotions, and began making a conscious effort to write more upbeat songs, even going so far as to put a Post-It note on his work station that said, "Try to think about good things."

That doesn't mean these songs here aren't without their dark moments, and many of them take on some pretty familiar topics. On the charged and ferocious 'I Fought', he sings about being haunted by the past "You’re in my memory, you’re in my history/ you’re in my everything, every time I sing along with you," in an almost desperate but also combative tone, as if determined to break free and push ahead. The wistful 'Final Years' stands as the album centerpiece, where he offers an especially sobering meditation on mortality ("What do we cherish in the final years?") and once again being hung up on the past ("I'm choking the life from the past/ clutching the stories.")

What sets these songs apart from even his most recent work is that this time around, Mould is allowing a little more light to peek through than before. Even when he confesses to having "lost faith in everything" on 'Lost Faith', he counterbalances the otherwise glum statement on the chorus with an unexpected dose of optimism, "We all lose faith in troubled times/ You better find your way back home."

But it's the child-like innocence coupled with aged wisdom on the gentle acoustic 'Camp Sunshine' that makes it a particularly startling moment on the album. Using summer camp as a metaphor for moving on from childhood to adulthood, he offers up some of the most tender advice yet: "We can't predict the future/ You can't forget the past/ Just enjoy the moments we have /Always treat your friend with love and respect/ Always be grateful/ Always say thank you and please." What makes it so disarming is how genuinely humble and even sweet it is (and that's coming from the same Bob Mould that wrote the blistering Black Sheets of Rain album).

Then again, we're talking about the same Bob Mould that also once wrote a song called 'See a Little Light', which was basically a breakup song clinging to a sense of optimism. So the duality has always been there, the difference is that Sunshine Rock leans more towards the light with a newly embraced optimism brought on by personal loss and the introspection that followed bubbling to the surface.

While not everything here measures up to the album's highlights, this is still an enjoyable and mostly solid effort that doesn't stray too far from what Mould has done best over the last few decades. And the fact that this far into his storied career he continues delivering consistently good albums with enough variations to keep things interesting speaks volumes of why he is still so revered.