Best tunes of 2002: #24 Neil Halstead “See you on rooftops”

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On a post that appeared a couple of years ago on these pages, I wrote about how I was introduced to Mojave 3 by my friend Tim when he convinced me to claim an extra ticket he had for their show at the Legendary Horseshoe. Just over a year and a half after that night, I was living in Ottawa, after having moved there from Toronto the previous fall, and reading the local entertainment weekly, Ottawa Xpress (sadly defunct), when I came across an article on Neil Halstead. I’m not sure why I started reading the piece because I didn’t yet readily connect the name with the lead vocalist of Mojave 3 (and Slowdive, for that matter). Perhaps the paper was thin that week and I still had some bus ride to go. Needless to say, the article made that particular connection clear for me within sentences and I read on to learn he was playing in Ottawa later that very week.

The fact that it had been months since I had seen any live music probably fed my sudden urge to see the show. One of the reasons I hadn’t seen one in so long, however, was our lack of funds so I needed to somehow convince Victoria, whose move to Ottawa precipitated mine, that the show was a ‘necessity’. In the end, we went, though don’t ask me what argument I used. I pre-purchased tickets at a local record shop (also now defunct) and we walked down to the Byward market on a Saturday night. We had never been to the Mercury Lounge before and haven’t been since (that one is still there) but it was a nice intimate space for an acoustic show, which is exactly what Halstead (and his opener, Sid Hillman) presented us with. All of the material during his set was new to both Victoria and me but I remember really enjoying it. We didn’t spring for any drinks that night but certainly bought the CD copy of Halstead’s solo debut, “Sleeping on roads”, on the way out the door.

“See you on rooftops” is track three on this very album and somewhat stands out from the rest. It takes the ball of string that was rolled up tightly with Halstead’s dreamy folk rock in Mojave 3 and launches it off into space. While out there amongst the constellations, the string unravels a bit, the loose beat, string synth line, and Atari sounds and lasers get the space boots tapping. Halstead picks out the stars and sings softly to each of them, childlike and hopeful, wooing any sort of life out there to come to take him away. The song ends in a blissed out cacophony that would make any of his counterparts from the original shoegaze movement green with envy. And all you need to do is lay back to bask in its glory.

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2002 list, click here.

Best albums of 2017: #2 Slowdive “Slowdive”

Back in the spring, my wife and I made the trek out to Montreal to see Slowdive play there. We’ve done this sparingly over the years that we have lived in Ottawa, probably too sparingly, but when we do hit up the bigger city for a show, we plan to stay a night or two and make a weekend of it. (We learned the hard way after driving home exhausted in the early hours after a James show in 2008.) I was super excited when I saw that Slowdive had added a show in Montreal to their tour and it actually wasn’t too difficult to convince my wife, even though she had never heard the band, given that we hadn’t had a weekend away in a few months.

I, myself, was relatively new to Slowdive because I didn’t take to them when they were around during shoegaze’s first wave in the early 90s. It took getting into Mojave 3 first (Neil Halstead’s and Rachel Goswell’s second band) for me to really appreciate them. Then, when Slowdive, following successful tours by other shoegaze luminaries, Lush, Swervedriver, and Ride, announced their intention to reunite for some shows, I was super intrigued to see them live. Of course, I had given this new album a few cursory listens beforehand but I didn’t actually buy it until I got a copy on vinyl at the show. I probably don’t need to tell you how great the concert was, even Victoria really enjoyed it, her listening to them with completely fresh ears. What surprised me most, though, was the variety of age groups in the audience. I was expecting it to be mostly 40 year olds, like I saw at the Ride reunion show I caught two years prior. And maybe they were there to see the opening act, Japanese Breakfast, but I’d like to think that the songs on “Slowdive” were getting radio play and appealing to the younger set.

As I good as the other new releases have been by the aforementioned Lush, Swervedriver, and Ride, Slowdive’s new self-titled album is easily the best of the bunch. It shows none of the dust or rust that might have accumulated in the 22 years since their last release. Neither does it feel like they are just revisiting glory days or tarnishing the reverence bestowed upon them by adding subpar material to their catalogue. The eight songs on this album are as good as anything they’ve ever released. And by keeping it to eight songs, it feels like they’ve left no room for filler. Each song is a beautifully ethereal and magnificent composition. They float on a layer just above our heads, the twin vocals of Halstead and Goswell hermetically entwined, alien and angelic.

I’d love to present all eight songs to you for consideration but like the other albums in this top five, I’m going to limit my picks for you to three. Enjoy.


“No longer making time”: This was perhaps the last of the tracks on the album to hook me and yet, hook me it did. The beat and the bass line is slow and unassuming, setting the stage for the first verse where Halstead’s murmuring vocals do a little dance with the reverb drenched but soft lead guitars. All that serenity falls by the wayside at the chorus. The guitars take on some heft and sizzling effects, Goswell joins in with backing vocals, and everything gets loud and just this side of too much… too much… But then, the ecstasy passes.

“Sugar for the pill”:  This track is all about the recurring guitar line that starts the track, climbing creepily and slithering easily back down your spine, and continues to hypnotize, even as the heavy bass joins in. There is so much reverb in this song, you’d think the band had locked you into some new age echo chamber and stood outside taunting, dangling the key gleefully. Not that you’d want to escape if you could. You’d just close your eyes and let yourself melt into the bright coloured mists, ignoring the slowing of your heart beat and deepening of your breaths, and the general feeling of vibration.

“Star roving”:  And lastly, we have the real rocker of the album. The drums jump, waves and walls of guitars thunder and tear, and even Halstead has a bit of edge to his delivery. Of course, that could just be the effects pedal that everything seems to be run through, making everything so damned raw. I could totally see this one filling the dance floor of any alternative club back in the early to mid nineties. Hundreds of sweat soaked kids swaying and tilting to the distortion, alcohol coursing wildly through their bloodstreams. Would this be happening in the clubs today? I’d like to think it is but would be curious to know for sure. It certainly held the lot of us enthralled when I saw them live. Such a lovely beast indeed.


For the rest of the albums in this list, check out my Best Albums page here.

Best tunes of 2000: #6 Mojave 3 “Return to sender”

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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 amounts of cheap draft consumed that night, but I’ve got two that I can relay. The first is that I must’ve really enjoyed it because I went out the very next day to purchase their latest disc, 2000’s “Excuses for travellers”. The second is a short conversation that transpired on the way out 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.”

I don’t want to put more words in his mouth than necessary but Tim was probably referring Halstead’s and Goswell’s pointed shift in musical direction after they disbanded their original band, Slowdive, and formed Mojave 3 with another Slowdive member, Ian McCutcheon. By 2000, they had added Alan Forrester and Chapterhouse’s Simon Rowe to their roster but they never did change the three in their name to a five. They were also on album number three by this time and had firmly defined their sound, as atmospheric as anything their first band would’ve been proud of but with a country and folk tinge, which is likely where Tim dug up his Cowboy Junkies reference.

“Return to sender” is a boppy number 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. And all that’s great but for me, this song is elevated above others of its type by the lyrics.

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

So all this to say, after years of listening to this song and catching up on the rest of Mojave 3’s back catalogue, I may be willing to concede that Tim may have had something with the Cowboy Junkies comparison. (But I still stand by my statement about his lack of genre sensibilities.)

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2000 list, click here.