Mojave 3

Excuses for Travellers (4AD)

In the early '90s, the British group Slowdive used an endless collection of swirling guitar effects to create loud-yet-atmospheric albums for the Creation label. After being dumped by Creation in 1995, Slowdive pawned its distortion pedals, changed its name to Mojave 3, and switched to ambient pop label 4AD. The title of the first track on its debut album clearly mapped out the new territory: "Love Songs on the Radio." Now it's two albums later, and Mojave 3's narcotic approximation of AM soft rock has reached new, sun-kissed heights.

It's hard to imagine aloof shoegazers ably emulating Jackson Browne or Harvest-era Neil Young, but subtle humor and a dreamy vibe somehow make Excuses for Travellerswork. On "Any Day Will Be Fine," vocalist/guitarist Neil Halstead declares sincerely, "I love the sun and the highlights in your hair/ They turn me on," in a deadpan tone as dry as the desert. The song "My Life in Art" depicts a white trash stripper hitting on an arty Englishman, while a gentle slap-back echo bounces off the words and acoustic guitars drift like shorebirds on a mellow ocean breeze.

Excuses for Travellers is dominated by Halstead's acoustic picking and melancholy whisper. (Bassist Rachel Goswell takes one turn on lead vocals and ends up in a Fleetwood Mac song circa '75.) Some tracks have a country feel but without that affected, hickish twang American bands think is necessary. A luscious pedal steel sound orbits the opening anthem, "In Love With a View," until fuzzy guitars build into a sonic blowout. Hammond organ, honky-tonk piano, and delicately plucked banjo accent several tracks.


Sample of Mojave 3's "Any Day Will Fine"

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While some songs descend into shudder-inducing cheese -- the gospel warbling of "Got My Sunshine" is particularly embarrassing -- most of Mojave 3's musical indulgences are seductive. By crossing the ocean and heading for the soothing glow of the California sun, these pasty English tourists have taken the easy listening sound and made it palatable again.

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