"Bad news, I fell over sideways today / Didn't take that step forward". Those are the first words out of Rachel Goswell's mouth on Waves Are Universal
, and there you go: the former Slowdive chanteuse and current Mojave 3 member falls sideways into a light impasse on her solo debut, cushioned by acoustic folk, hand percussion and her own dreamy voice, instead of marching ahead to a stronger, more clearly defined artistic destination.
The songs themselves don't exactly offend. Some of them surprise with tastefully eclectic instrumentation and understated finesse -- opener "Warm Summer Sun" starts out as a gentle changing-of-leaves ballad, then lopes off into mistier territory with pipes and accordion, while instrumentally anemic tracks like "Gather Me Up" and "Hope" are fleshed out with dry pump organ touches. Goswell sounds strongest when she adds a few instrumental layers behind her voice (see the grey-sounding "Deelay") or, unsurprisingly, brings out the reverb (on the ghostly "Coastline").
But a few numbers, like "No Substitute", which suffers from malnourished lyrics ("I just wanna leave this place and come runnin' to you"), or the almost adult-contemporary "Hope", stretch the album too thin to be entirely satisfying -- and there are too many ambitious singer/songwriter albums out there to easily justify any water-treading. Unless, of course, you don't mind the inertia.