Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell have been down the reinvention road before. Back when they were the core of the British shoegaze group Slowdive, the pair concluded that the noisy, swirling sound they'd helped advance was a creative dead end, and they'd better try something different. The result? 1995's much-maligned Pygmalion, an ambient, experimental album that alienated fans, got Slowdive booted off Creation Records, and essentially caused the band's demise. This time, the duo has tweaked the sound of Mojave 3, the country-folk outfit it formed just weeks after Slowdive bit the dust. And on Puzzles Like You, the group's fifth full-length, that shift generates a much happier outcome. Though undisputed leader Halstead's acoustically inclined Nick Drake/Gram Parsons-isms rendered the past few M3 albums rather snoozy, the bulk of Puzzles Like You is zippy, mod-inspired, eminently likable summer pop propelled by bright electric guitars and organs, limber drumming, pedal steel (smartly underemphasized), the occasional chirpy synth melody, and Halstead and Goswell's deliciously dreamy harmonies. The only complaint here is a long-standing one that Goswell never gets to take any vocal leads anymore (she hasn't since M3's 1996 debut, Ask Me Tomorrow). That aside, Puzzles clearly finds Mojave 3 heading in the right direction.
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