The members of Mojave 3 have a history of making beautiful, lush music. From their days as Slowdive--one of the best shoegazer bands of the early 90s--they mastered the art of tempering noise with beauty, and have secured their place in rock history as a definitive dream-pop band. When they split, Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell and latter-day drummer Ian McCutcheon formed the stripped-down but just as beautiful Mojave 3, and debuted with the breathtaking classic Ask Me Tomorrow. Taking the beautiful harmonies of their previous band and adding them to a country/folk backing, they did the impossible--a complete change in direction which actually bettered their previous work.
As time went on, they refined their country sound, but as they did, they became a lot more countrified, losing a lot of what made their debut album special--namely, the decreasing vocal turns of Goswell. Their releases have never been bad, but with each successive release, they've become more solidified in their sound, and to a lesser extent, they've inched closer to becoming just another folk-rock band. A shame, really, but as their sound is really pretty and unique, it's easy to forgive them. After all, the core ingredients stayed in place: the beautiful vocals, the quiet, hushed guitar work, and the atmosphere remained in place.
Spoon & Rafter, then, is an album that's not very surprising. At this point in the game, they're not changing their sound, they're not tinkering with anything, not because they don't have anything new to say, but because they don't have to say anything new. As lazy as that may seem, when you write good songs, does it really matter? Of course not. Starting off with a nine-minute epic might seem a bit risky, but "Bluebird of Happiness" is an impressive start, and though it's long, it has about three different songs in it, so you're never bored. In fact, that's Mojave 3's saving grace--they can give you ten songs that sound remarkably the same, but they make them interesting enough to prevent boredom.
To be honest, the first few times I listened to Spoon & Rafter, I was not moved very much. No song really stood out, save for "Bluebird of Happiness," simply because it was so grand and epic. The rest of the album just didn't seem particularly remarkable. Not bad, mind you, just not particularly memorable. In fact, every time I tried to listen to it, nothing came to me, nothing stuck out--it just all seemed the same. I put it on this morning, I did so just to listen to it--not for serious critical analysis. When I did that--talk about a revelation! Nuances that I missed were suddenly standing out; little bits here and there that I'd completely overlooked because I was trying too hard to hear the 'bigger picture'--things such as the pedal steel guitar washes here and there, the soft mixture of atmosphere and pastoral greatness on songs such as "Tinker's Blues," "Writing to St. Peter" and "Too Many Mornings" just really cannot be beat.
Instead of seeing the bland folk-rock album that I initially heard, I found a lovely album of sublime folk, tempered with a gentle yet intoxicating atmosphere that easily stands up to Halstead's best work. While playing it safe is a dangerous game, Mojave 3 have safely delivered on their promise of beautiful, hushed countrified folk. Spoon & Rafter might not be terribly ifferent than their previous records, but when your other records are all beautiful, does it really matter that your album doesn't offer anything new?
Of course not.