Mojave 3 - Puzzles Like You

If the summer sun had a sound, it would harmonize perfectly with Mojave 3’s Puzzles Like You. The songs would warm your skin, and you’d squint your eyes at mirages of former flames in fields of daisies. Seriously. These flawlessly well-crafted songs blend 60’s Brit-pop guitars and vocals with beautiful “make Nashville proud” pedal steel strings, touches of edgy Blur-esque vocals, tasteful piano arrangements, tambourine, and Rachel Goswell’s unmistakable vocal-harmony genius. Who wouldn’t want to take a barefoot toss through white August flowers?

Puzzles is Mojave 3’s fifth full-length record since forming in 1995, after the disbanding of their birth incarnation, Slowdive, which left a super-fuzzed, shoe-gazing, stomp-box-distorted legacy most bands would be happy to retire on. On previous Mojave 3 records, singer Nick Halstead's melodic, folk and country-tinged songs drew favorable (if lazy) comparisons to Nick Drake, Cowboy Junkies, Bob Dylan, and Brian Wilson. Though like most authentic artists, he refuted most associations - regardless their degree of flattery - and instead emphasized his dedication to a “good song.” (which I find completely admirable)

The band recorded Puzzlesin their new Cornwall, England home studio, exploring a much more pristine, brighter sound than that of past efforts. In a recent Pitchfork interview, Halstead revealed that the new songs were “quite immediate" and - brace yourself - "poppier." While the album is mostly an up-tempo listen they’ve also given us a couple of heart-melters like the brooding, gray “Most Days,” where we’re treated to heartfelt lyrics like, “most days I’m better than this, some days I’m tired to the bone.” Then there’s the soft, apologetic, “The Mutineer,” where light piano keys and pedal steal strings accompany a lazily strummed acoustic guitar and almost-whispered phrases. “These words breeze and curse, and I’m sorry, yes I’m hurt.”

Surprisingly, the band manages to conjure up emotions similar to those crafted by great Brit bands like The Stone Roses, Blur, and The Delays, while still sounding indisputably original and honest. These are pop songs that sound familiar and new all at once. With harmonies so rich and full, your brain feels over-caffeinated: sweetly buzzed, like a cheesecake sugar-rush. The themes are universal: Love, Love, and more Love. I suspect this record is best digested solo in a crowded London coffeehouse, or as the soundtrack to an impulsive Sunday morning cleaning of your studio apartment.

“Breaking the Ice” is probably the most accessible song on Puzzles. Upbeat, with a nice tambourine accent, Halstead muses over his first flame, whose memory haunts him. Turning to the bottle (Jack Daniels, I’d imagine), he persuades her, “Jenny I’ve been thinking things over.” She replies, “Thinking never got you far.” This is all we know of his attempt at redemption. We’re left as listeners: just close enough to know the situation and relate, but with just a foot outside the door of understanding. That is how the album as a whole sits with me. I’m left wondering what I would see if I could get just a little closer to Mojave 3. I guess I’m a bit Puzzled too, with regard to the unresolved song plots and the lyrical clues to the complex minds of these prolific songwriters.

So beware Northerners in icy climates: you may be inspired to move to some sun-bleached, romantic city. But then you’d be doomed to miss your first loves. Maybe that’s how Mojave 3 would have it. Maybe.

-- Part Swedish Chris

Release Date: June 6, 2006

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