Mojave 3 - Puzzles Like You
It can't do much to your self-esteem being in a band that the Manic Street Preachers said they hated more than Hitler. However, Mojave 3 are a world away from the ponderous sonic thunderings of Slowdive - their albums of upbeat, country-styled music have had a far lighter edge, both lyrically and musically. For this, their fifth album, they have gone even further away from the shoe-gazing movement they helped to define, with a perky release that borders on sixties pop at times.
It opens with the incredibly bright and breezy Truck Driving Man, that has an intro with an uncomfortable edge of Chas and Dave to it until the vocals start. Neil Halstead has never had the strongest of voices, but here is fits the production well - there is a retro feel throughout, an album of classic sounding three minute pop songs that wouldn't sound out of place coming out of a Dansette. A good reflection of this is current single Breaking the Ice, which manages to sound like a pop Slowdive. Beneath the melodies guitars thrum and moan, overlaid with a colourful tone and some chugging drums from Ian McCutcheon. It is a wonderful pop song, inspiring right to the end, a muted vocal exploding back into song.
Running With Your Eyes Closed also has a sharp sixties, Manfred Mann feel to it, with a lovely guitar break on top of a gorgeous slide. Most Days is a country number, soft and lilting with a dreamy touch to it, whereas Big Star Baby sounds similar to Near Wild Heaven by REM, a gentle swaying melody set against a quiet Hammond organ. The production on this song is sublime, a marvel of instrumentation, perfectly balanced and sounding fantastic.
Album highlight for me though is Kill The Lights - it is just an amazing song, with a lovely organ piece and an echoey feel to it like nothing else on the album. It leads well into You Said It Before, a slower piece of melancholy, full of instruments that sound like they came out of the music room cupboard - woodblocks snapping and clopping behind a melody of guitar and piano.
This album is full of special moments and some beautiful songwriting, with a warm, summery feel perfect for this time of year. It is a close cousin to early Belle and Sebastian, Tigermilk in particular, and the poppier moment on Universal Audio by Delgados. Full of ideas and melodies it is an album that you will return to again and again.
You can listen to 10 tracks from the album online using this media player from 4AD.