It was Saturday afternoon, September 30, 2000, and I was at work, nearing the end of my shift. I called Tim because I had a hankering to go out and was curious to see what my friends were doing. “I know what you’re going to do tonight,” Tim proclaimed, much like Hunter S. Thompson’s lawyer might have done in ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’. “You’re coming with me to see Mojave 3 at the Horseshoe tonight!” It was fortuitous for him and for me that he had an extra ticket for the show and was looking for someone to claim it. I had never really listened to Mojave 3 before but I was game.
I don’t really remember many details of the show, given the heroic amounts of cheap draft consumed that night, but I’ve got two that I can relay. The first is a short conversation that transpired on the way out of the Legendary Horseshoe after the show that will live on in infamy. Tim was saying something about how Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell had gone all Cowboy Junkies with Mojave 3. And I drunkenly proclaimed, “Tim, you have no concept of genre.” He just looked at me, incredulous, and said, “I don’t even know how to respond to that.” The second is that I must’ve really enjoyed the show because I went out the very next day to purchase Mojave 3’s latest disc, 2000’s “Excuses for travellers”.
If that story sounds vaguely familiar, you must’ve read the post I wrote about the track “Return to sender” when it appeared at #6 on my Best tunes of 2000 list. I reproduced it practically verbatim above because I love the story and it bears repeating, especially given that it recounts my introduction to the group and their third album, the subject of our post today.
Mojave 3 came to be when British shoegaze icons Slowdive were dropped by their label, the equally iconic Creation Records, in 1995 and that band’s principal songwriters, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, along with the drummer at the time, Ian McCutcheon, decided to record music towards a different direction entirely. The trio became a quintet shortly afterwards with the addition of Alan Forrester and Simon Rowe (the latter formerly of Chapterhouse), but the ‘3’ in the name stuck. You might be surprised, knowing how I feel about dream pop and shoegaze, that it took me so long to get into this band but that’s the truth of it.
Mojave 3’s third album, “Excuses for travellers”, is like a happy medium between the group’s first two. It’s not as gauzy and mellow as “Ask me tomorrow” and not as peppy and twee as “Out of tune”. It just is. It is a mood and a feeling. It’s what you put on when you want to feel that “Excuses for travellers” feeling. Those who know, know exactly what I’m talking about. This is an album that doesn’t peak and that doesn’t have any obvious singles. It just has ten amazing tunes, of which of I have picked three of my favourites for you to sample. Hope you’re in the mood.
“Bringin’ me home”: My first pick is the only one on which Neil Halstead doesn’t take the lead vocal duties. Penned and sung by Rachel Goswell, it follows the lead of the other songs with a tempered, upbeat feel. Instead of sunshine, though, Rachel channels a rainy day. “Just a rainy day here in my usual place, where no one hears me.” Just sitting alone with the sound of the raindrops and the echoes of memories, imagining what might’ve been. A surprising, yet subtle synth underpins the tune, adding a layer to the guitar strum and sparse drum beat. And then, as if we weren’t clear on the mood, a harmonica makes an appearance for good measure.
“In love with a view”: “I had a plan that was built on thinking too long. Canadian winters, at home with your sisters, the romance was hard to ignore. You were beautiful. I was happy to fall.” Perhaps this is predictable but I have soft spot for any tune that references home, especially when that tune comes from an artist not from Canada. The opening number perfectly sets the mood. Strumming acoustic, twinkling piano, wailing pedal steel, and a bass line that just feels like a soaked handkerchief. The memory is cold. A cabin in the middle of nowhere, a fixture in the corner of all those Polaroids. Halstead and Goswell sing together at the refrain, both plaintive, both hopeful that the pain won’t be in vain. And when the song explodes into an all out jam at the three and a half minute mark, you can’t help but feel that the band are are working through a whole range of emotions. It’s just so beautiful and passionate.
“Return to sender”: Track four is pure joy. “Return to sender” is a tune that always brings a smile to my face. It makes me want to put my arm around my wife’s shoulder so that we can sway together with our eyes closed and sing along to those Neil Halstead witticisms. “I went looking for a priest, I said, ‘Say something, please I don’t want to live my life all alone.’ He said, “God will take care of those that help themselves. But you look pretty screwed, send a letter.’” My sixth favourite tune from the year 2000 is a boppy number. It’s a feeling that dances along to Halstead’s gentle acoustic strumming and his soft and plaintive vocals. The jaunty drumming, the banjo twang, twinkling keys, and harmonica flourishes only to serve to add to the wistful joy. “If you find us, return to sender.”
I’m obviously still not on a regular schedule around here so I won’t promise when we’ll get to album #2… but, it’s coming. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:
10. Richard Ashcroft “Alone with everybody”
9. The New Pornographers “Mass romantic”
8. The Cure “Bloodflowers”
7. The Weakerthans “Left and leaving”
6. The Clientele “Suburban light”
5. Belle and Sebastian “Fold your hands child, you walk like a peasant”
4. Coldplay “Parachutes”
You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.