A fourth LP of laid-back acoustic bliss from Neil Halstead and cohorts finds instrumental experimentation and new collaborators honing an evolved sound. It’s still bliss, but it’s bliss moved on.
Following Halstead’s critically lauded solo debut Sleeping On Roads in 2002, this is the band’s first album for three years and comes as bassist Rachel Goswell sets about releasing her own album. With such solo projects all around it’s something of a surprise that Spoon And Rafter saw the light of day.
Since Excuses For Travellers the band have added piano and glocks to their collection of pedal steel, acoustic and electric guitars, drums and bass, and removed the hammond organ. Present too is Halstead’s harmonica, which always lends a sense of beach party to the atmospherics.
The resulting album is recognisable as a Mojave 3 record, but one that showcases an evolution in their sound – it sounds more like a collection of people collaborating, a band even, than a Neil Halstead glorification project.
Halstead’s solo collaborator Nick Holton is again on hand to add synth whooshes and bloops to the core sound in Tinkers Blues and Bill Oddity. And Goswell’s backing vocals, a heavily-used duetting feature of the band’s first album Ask Me Tomorrow, are also back on Writing To St Peter. Combined, it’s almost as if the band are discovering they can use their entire repertoire on one record rather than narrow-focusing.
Spoon And Rafter is an album that sounds more collaborative and friendly, yet its warmth is tinged with sadness. “Almost every song says something about broken hearts,” says Halstead. He’s right – even the upbeat She’s All Up Above is culpable. It’s not as easy to love as the band’s past melodic moments, but there’s enough here to keep their loyal fanbase going for another little while.