At the risk of stating the obvious, pop is not a four-letter word. I mention this so that you don’t misunderstand me when I announce that Mojave 3’s eagerly awaited Puzzles Like You is a pop album.
Although many of their musical peers back from long-ago days of Slowdive have drifted away drowsily, Neil Halstead, Rachel Goswell (who’s currently sidelined by a rare and devastating case of labyrinthitus and tinnutis) and Ian McCutcheon remain a prolific and vital bunch, both in their solo endeavors and (along with Simon Rowe) as Mojave 3. Ten years after the rechristened shoegazers’ debut album, the members of Mojave 3 continue to refine their sound. With Puzzles Like You, they have created an album that should draw new fans without alienating current followers.
Fellow sad-core band Low similarly broadened and caffeinated its sound on 2005’s The Great Destroyer to wonderful effect. Puzzles Like You is arguably Mojave 3’s most accessible album, but remember that this is a relative term. We’re not talking about Jefferson Airplane going on to create “We Built This City,” or Liz Phair going on to create, well, anything after Exile in Guyville. Mojave 3’s new material isn’t an abandonment of any strengths; it’s an embrace of the simple pleasures of the classic ’60s garage-pop style of songwriting — a style that Halstead has certainly flirted with and referenced throughout the years.
The twelve songs on Puzzles Like You are lean; whereas 2003’s Spoon and Rafter showcased several epic productions longer than five minutes (“Bluebird of Happiness” clocked in at nine minutes), the average here rests slightly shy of three-and-a-half minutes. There’s even some Belle & Sebastian-tinged twee in the mix on tracks such as “Ghost Ship Waiting.” Of course, the slow country sound that’s been the cornerstone of the band is still well represented on tracks such as “Most Days” and “You Said It Before.”
It’s a gift that 4AD chose to release Puzzles Like You during the advent of summer. It’s a twisting-by-the-pool record. It’s a driving-with-the-top-down record. Hot like the pavement. Cool like lemonade. It’s midday instead of sunset. If this is not the dynamic you expect from Mojave 3, prepare to be pleasantly surprised.
Rachael Goswell streaming audio