MOJAVE 3 at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Wednesday (October 29), $15. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Mojave 3 frontman neil halstead isn't particularly chatty at the best of times, but ask him about the inspiration behind the dreamy melancholia on his band's new Spoon And Rafter disc and you can practically hear the crickets chirping down the line. "The songs are really all just about people and places and things close to our hearts," Halstead offers after a silence you could pilot a plane through. "Uh, that sounds like bullshit, doesn't it?
There's always been a downhearted vibe to the Cornwall, England, quintet's country pop, stretching as far back as Halstead's and fellow bandmates Rachel Goswell's and Ian McCutcheon's roots in the shoegazer pop combo Slowdive. Mournful pedal steels drifting in and out over slowly strummed acoustic guitars only accentuate the tales of woe and longing spun out in hushed vocals.
However, there's a decidedly more personal tone to the moping these days. If Halstead's recent solo set, Sleeping On Roads, was the sound of someone being dumped (the title refers to the couch-surfing the singer/songwriter endured after being tossed out of his house), Spoon And Rafter is about picking up the pieces.
"When you make a record like this, people immediately assume that you're the poor sod who got dumped. When the solo record came out, a lot of people asked if I was all right, if this was my way of asking for help or something.
"It's probably less egocentric to note that all the songs aren't about me. There are horror stories about my relationships in there, but also my friends' relationships. They've got more to worry about than I do about being exposed to the world."
Personal revelations aside, Spoon And Rafter isn't radically different from either Halstead's solo album or the three Mojave 3 records that came before it. Some vintage electronic squeals and the occasional change in tempo have been tossed in, but overall, Halstead continues to mine the same hazy, laid-back psych-country vibe.
As a soundtrack for our current seasonal shift, it's perfect. "Oh, right, you've got that autumn thing over there," Halstead drawls.
For those hoping for a violent upheaval, or even a minor reworking of the band's sound, Halstead makes no apologies. Apparently, you'll have to wait for the forthcoming Manitoba remix for that.
"In terms of the scope and instrumentation, this record is slightly more adventurous than the other stuff we've done, but you're right, there is no radical rewriting here," he confirms. "That's intentional.
"I think I've finally become comfortable with the fact that this is the way my music sounds. Sure, I have dreams about radical reinvention and releasing something completely unrecognizable, but that never really comes off.
"As important is retaining some sort of identity. When we're all sitting in a room playing together, there's something that happens that makes it Mojave 3. If we were to suddenly become this shiny pop band with beats or something, that would fuck it all up."