Whilst it could appear that José González has been in exile, hiding inside Korallgrottan cave for the last eight years, the truth is he has still been as pro-active with his acoustic guitar as he ever once was. He released two albums in 2010 and 2013 with childhood friends Tomas Winterkorn and Elias Araya on previously abandoned project Junip, seemingly making up for the lost buddy time that disappeared when he suddenly blossomed into the spotlight as a solo star with The Knife cover “Heartbeats”.
González’s soft vocals was just as distinctive with Junip but the acoustic guitar had some company in the form of drums, bass, organs and moog synthesizers giving the project a unique expansive sound. When the announcement of his return as a soloist with third album Vestiges & Claws surfaced, fans of his raw minimalistic acoustic folk might be anxious of a possible musical amnesia. Thankfully though, Gonzalez is the same old moody life-analyser and has stuck with keeping the lyrics and his maestro skills on the Alhambra classic guitar at the top of the importance hierarchy.
A new side to González formed on his previous effort In Our Nature which brought out his atheistic and nihilistic perspective on life, which at times could have been perceived as too opinionated or depressingly honest. However, it was inspired by his biochemistry studies and created astonishingly deep lyrics like, “who cares in a hundred years from now / when it all comes down, cycling trivialities”.
Even from deciphering the title of his new album, (“Vestiges” meaning a trace or remnant of something that is disappearing or no longer exists), it’s apparent that his belief system will become his concept. Yet the frame of mind is less about the unavoidable doom of nature and more about celebrating and making the most of our short time on Earth, which is a pleasant u-turn for González.
“Leaf Off / The Cave”:
Lead single “Leaf Off / The Cave” is a rational yet optimistic song that teaches the art of gratitude: “Yeah we flourish and die, (but) what it means to be alive”, and is accompanied by a video of a fictional event that takes optimistic people from a range of cultures and demonstrates their rejoicing in the existence of life. It’s one of many new songs off the album that feels instantly familiar and has a guitar chord structure that is reminiscent particularly of “Killing for Love” from In Our Nature. Furthermore, “Stories We Build” feels like a clapper version of the self-conversational “Abram” from his second LP.
Although González still encapsulates us powerfully with just minimal artwork and production, they are a few perks on the album that show some form of growth. He decides to reject the “less is more” mode of previous albums, by creating longer tracks (only one track is the traditional González length of less than three minutes) and a larger quantity of less repetitive lyrics. Either he has more to say or has forgotten his charm of keeping things short and sweet.
The whispering bass flute on “The Forest” beautifully creates a Native American wilderness atmosphere, although the disruptive breaks of flow in the composition feel unnecessary. The wood block simplicity of “Let It Carry You” is also a pleasant touch along with the jungle-orientated percussion on “Afterglow”. There are no covers on the album such as “Heartbeats” from debut Veneer and “Teardrops” from second album In Our Nature, Yukimi Nagano’s backing vocals are noticeably absent and it is also suffers from a lack of memorable tracks in the last third and disappointingly ends underwhelming with “Open Book”. However, as the solitary producer for the third time, it is refreshing to have an artist that can depart from a project for eight years and return with the same adored style of music that made fans fall in love with him in the first place.
Words by Matt Hobbs // Edited by Ayo Adepoju