E xceedingly dry Brit singer/ guitarist Neil Halstead allows a wry chuckle when it's pointed out that on the evidence of Mojave 3's achingly fragile, candlelit third disc, Excuses For Travellers, one could be forgiven for assuming he walks around shrouded in a mist of gloom.
While Halstead's former band, shoe-gaze fave Slowdive, was always a precarious exercise in contrast -- bewitching guitar noise that was somehow ambient -- Mojave 3 strips back the layers, throwing the emphasis on sombre lyrics wrapped in plush melodies and vocals shared by Halstead and bassist Rachel Goswell, who also served in Slowdive.
"A mist of gloom?" he drawls from his Cornwall pad. "That's a bit unfair. I suppose I do write miserable songs, but I'm just not very good at writing happy songs. We had a go at it, though. I think the song Any Day Will Be Fine is fairly happy. Otherwise, that's just the way the records come out."
Excuses For Travellers might not mark a sea change in the way Mojave 3 function, but the record did bring on some internal changes, most notably the inclusion of songs written by Goswell and drummer Ian McCutcheon.
Yet Halstead allows that "a lot of the songs on Excuses For Travellers are quite old, some predating the last album. But we always have a lot of songs lying around.
Drunken success "A song like Trying To Reach You, we tried to record it three or four times for the last record and it just wasn't working. This time round we just went out and got incredibly drunk before we recorded it, and we nailed it."
Of all the English bands from the early 90s who together advanced the shoe-gazing sound traceable to My Bloody Valentine -- Slowdive, Chapterhouse, Ride, Lush -- Halstead and Goswell have remained the most consistently productive and vital.
Halstead's guitar playing is part of the equation -- a point not lost on former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, who took Halstead with him on tour -- but so, too, are the strong imagery and the sweep of his best songs.
"I think we've kept a lot of fans from Slowdive," Halstead offers, "so there's almost this situation where people have grown up with the band over the years as we've changed into Mojave 3. It's certainly nice to be relevant to people at different points in their lives rather than being relevant when they're 16 and useless to them later."
Halstead explains that their select-date North American tour is testing the waters for return dates later on. But doesn't the headphones-friendly feel of Excuses For Travellers present some difficulties for a band playing rock clubs?
"We'd need an awful lot of headphones," Halstead cracks. "There could be a visual aspect, I suppose, but there isn't. We just can't afford it, really. I guess we'll just have to rely on the forceful nature of our personalities to get by."
MOJAVE 3, acoustic at the NOW Lounge (189 Church), Saturday (September 30), 1 pm, free, 364-1301; and at the Horseshoe (370 Queen West) Saturday evening (September 30), $10.50. 598-4753.