When bands breakup and members go on to form other groups they produce sound different from the past. Post-punk downers Joy Division, after the death of singer Ian Curtis and subsequent break-up, became the more dance-friendly New Order. After the suicide of Kurt Cobain, members of Nirvana went on to form the much more upbeat and poppy Foo Fighters.
One of the most radical examples of this is the British band Mojave 3. The band was created by former members of the shoegazing (named from a tendency of band members to stare at their feet at concerts) group Slowdive, which based its sound on noise and sonic effects. But Mojave 3 is as far removed from this style. The sound is much more laid back, bordering on folk and country-rock. On the group’s new album, the low-key and beautiful Excuses for Travellers (4AD), Mojave 3 shows it is just as adept at this style as the group’s noisy past.
Listening to the album, you can see that the members of Mojave 3 are big fans of Neil Young (at least the acoustic Neil Young), Bob Dylan and British folk singer and cult favorite Nick Drake. Most of the songs are soft and inward-looking. Instead of the powerful electric guitars, feedback and effect pedals that defined Slowdive, here acoustic guitars, hushed vocals and even country instruments like banjos and steel guitars are the order of the day.
The result is music perfect for late nights when you can’t sleep or gray, overcast days. Opening track In Love With A View offers a country-ballad feel with softly-strumming acoustic guitar and piano. The mournful sound of steal guitar adds a haunting effect to the song. Trying To Reach You creates a perfect late-night bar sound straight from a small smoky club.
Singer Neil Halstead’s vocals are throaty and hushed, adding to the intimacy and fragility of the songs. My Life in Art demonstrates this fragile sound. With just the bare-bones accompaniment of an acoustic guitar, Halstead’s quiet delivery captures the sadness and pathos of the song, which is about a dancer trying to make it in a strip club.
Not every song on the album is so sad. Many have a catchy, warm pop feel that nicely contrast the sadder songs. Return to Sender is very jaunty and perky. When You’re Drifting introduces the jangle-pop sound of groups like Teenage Fanclub and early REM, even going back to groups like the Byrds. The choruses, powered by blasts of electric guitars, are instantly catchy and stick in your head.
Mojave 3 is not a band that’s going to tear up the charts or play to sold-out stadiums. Instead, it’s a band content enough to make, as members put it in a recent interview, nice music. Sometimes that’s all you really need. If you’re looking for a quieter alternative to all the rap-metal and bubblegum on the airwaves or the perfect background music for watching rain hit the windows, then Excuses for Travellers is what you need.