Mojave 3

Puzzles Like You

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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. Songs like "Truck Driving Man," "Just a Boy," "Breaking the Ice," and "Puzzles Like You" sound like the work of a totally different, almost frisky band. Whether fans of the group will be satisfied with the three (admittedly) lovely ballads is a legitimate question; they may find the record too cheery and loose for their liking. Or they may hear the usual sweet vocal harmonies from Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell (who has an increased presence on the album) and feel comforted. They may realize that, regardless of tempo, these are some of the strongest, most involving songs the band has ever recorded. They might come to regard the record as a masterful distillation of all their influences from country-rock to '60s pop to dusty Americana. They may notice that the record sounds like a progression for the group and not a total leap sideways. If they can come to any one of these conclusions, it's likely they will fall in love with Puzzles Like You, since it is one of the best guitar pop records of 2006 or any other recent year. It is always nice when a band keeps churning out perfectly fine records that all sound alike; for a band to create something as fine and accomplished as this so long into its career is almost miraculous.

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