Release Date: Jun 6, 2006
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Indie, Rock
A longtime fan of Mojave 3 has come to expect certain things from the band's albums -- things like relaxed vocals, wispy ballads, soft textures, and gentle soothing songs. There may have been the occasional uptempo tune with pronounced guitars, but this was the exception to the laid-back rule. Things have changed on Puzzles Like You. Fully nine of the 12 songs clock in at midtempo or above, and some might even be considered rockers! Chiming guitars, tinny organs and vintage synths, double-time drums, briskly shaken tambourines, and almost bawdy-sounding pianos all pop up in one spot or another to give complacent fans a jolt of energy.
As Slowdive, the members of Mojave 3 made mysterious music for submarines and space stations. Upon forming their new band in 1996, they switched to sunlit country roads, and they've been ambling down them ever since, coasting on the goodwill of their fans. After four slow-mo country-rock albums, Puzzles Like You is their peppiest yet, but it is no less infatuated with classic Americana; is writing a song that sounds like Big Star and calling it Big Star Baby cute or just annoying? The brisker numbers rub shoulders with Belle & Sebastian; the janglier ones Teenage Fanclub.
Neil Halstead probably wouldn't have written a song called "Truck Driving Man" circa 1993. A latent fascination with rock-and-roll writ large has always lined his songs, but at heart he's not an exceptional rock-song writer, and he's had the good sense to smother those ideas in sheets of haze or slow-burn country drawl. His best work takes pop's simplicity and directness for granted, finding charm in the less obvious angles: lovingly detailed characters, careful auxiliary instrumentation, finely woven austerity.