Puzzles Like You is a nice album. When I say nice, I am thinking of the adjective as effusively used by Joel Barish. I mean it to be both an understatement of my affection for the album and an expression of its mildness. It is the kind of album that brings a pleasant sway to one’s gait during his daily marches, lifts him lightly on a tide of hazy pastel-infused memories, makes him long for the life he thought he’d be living and take account of the occasional beauty inflected in the one which he is living. It is unabashedly “poppy;” a record for houses filled with the natural light of long carefree summer days. There are moments of quietly strummed and plucked melancholy, such as “Most Days” and the pacifying closer “Mutineer,” which complement the exuberant melodies which characterize much of the album. “Big Star Baby” basks in swells of pedal steel, revealing Mojave 3’s country-tinged past, but this is an album dominated by a sixties/seventies anglo-pop sound, a sound which has been warmly united, both in the recording and the songwriting, with the bands previous leanings toward the music of “their American spiritual home,” as it is referred to in their 4AD bio.
More representative of Puzzles Like You, is “You Said it Before,” a song that sails along to a buoyant rhythm all its own, inviting both introspection and surrender to whatever meandering daydreams it may conjure. Neil Halstead wryly observes that “Life is funny, but we don’t laugh anymore,” and in the chorus suggests, “Just go back to the place where you’re happy/ There’s people who love you and they won’t desert you.” The advice seems both sound and condescending, a confusion deepened by the gentle, impassive way in which it is delivered. It feels about the same as someone saying to you, “Yeah, you failed, but so what—everyone does. At least there are people who care about you. They are failures too.” Anyway, the slight chill of indifference in Halstead’s lyrics and vocals suggests a density not immediately perceptible in the warmth of its exterior. “Breaking the Ice” is perhaps the album’s most melodically accosting tune, firmly asserting that it be hummed by those who meet it, wherever that may be. Luckily, it is not such a bad thing to be melodically accosted in this case.
Now, I’ve never been to Cornwall, but by many accounts it is a very beautiful place. I can say, without reservation, that Puzzles Like You sounds like an album made by a band that lives in a beautiful place. But more than that, it makes one long for those places, green and bathed in the mysticism of bright blue oceans, which have made for themselves a permanent home in the souls of those who have looked upon them. I am thinking of Big Sur, which, being one of those places, green and bathed in the mysticism of the bright blue sea, I imagine is similar in some ways to Cornwall. Surely, it is as well the specter of rocky cliffs rising out of unrelenting surf, which draws the two together in my mind. In any case, I have a vision of myself in a blue Volvo, now long dead and sacrificed to the bowels of Los Angeles, driving along the winding bitumen of Highway One, looking out on the Pacific. On the stereo, this very album plays, the irresistible melodiousness of “Running with Your Eyes Closed” melting into the sparse acoustic grace of “Most Days.” And when on “Puzzles Like You” Halstead sings, “Everyone I’ve ever loved has been some kind of fuck up,” I smile affirmably and wonder how the fuck anyone ever managed to love someone that wasn’t.
The Byrds – Younger Than Yesterday
Archer Prewitt – Wilderness
The Pernice Brothers – Overcome by Happiness