Release Date: Feb 17, 2015
Record label: Mute
Swedish folksinger José González's third full-length album, 2015's Vestiges & Claws, is a deceptively uncomplicated, poetic, and utterly poignant work. Coming seven years after his last album, the superb and similarly introspective In Our Nature, Vestiges & Claws finds González in a deeply thoughtful state of mind ruminating over such timely albeit universal themes as religion vs. science, the relatively brief length of our lives on Earth, and the heartbreaking complexities of human relationships.
Vestiges & Claws is José González's third solo album, and the first since 2007's In Our Nature. Not that he's been resting on his laurels, mind you: in the intervening period, he's reformed his band Junip after a 12-year-break, with which he's released an album, and composed a few songs for the soundtrack to The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. So although it's been a long wait for González fans, he's been flexing his creative muscles, collaborating with other musicians, and trying out different genres and formats - and his solo music benefits.
Seven years after his last solo album, Swedish-Argentinian singer/songwriter José González returns with a brooding, existential third offering. The soft, inward-looking folk-rock of his first two records categorizes González alongside Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, and more contemporarily like Alexi Murdoch, early Iron & Wine, or pretty much everyone on the Garden State soundtrack. Armed with a strangely tuned classical guitar, experimental arrangements and minimal human-body-based percussion, he doesn’t stray too far from those influences on his third offering.
Earth is a speck in the universe. This is a common idea expressed by everyone from astronomer Carl Sagan to forwarded email threads from distant relatives with subject lines like “Feeling Small Yet?”. In Sagan’s book Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, he laments the injustices and grievances humankind hold against one another on this “mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” It’s a beautiful and humbling thought.
The process of a singer-songwriter can be comparable to that of a novelist. Certainly, the lyrics of Fiona Apple, Mark Kozelek, and Tom Waits can stand as their own pieces of prose without the help of melodies. José González has decided to play with this as a concept on Vestiges and Claws. It comes, most obviously, with the song titles: “With the Ink of a Ghost”, “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell”, and “Open Book”.
You’d never describe José González’s music as "confrontational," but Vestiges & Claws, his first solo album since 2007, offers an odd kind of ultimatum. After eight years of extreme cultural, political and artistic upheaval, it's likely that you're in a much different place than you were when In Our Nature was released. Meanwhile, the music of José González has not changed at all.
He may still be best known for his cover of “Heartbeats” by the Knife, but over the past decade-plus Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez has won over critics and earned a small, devoted following with his singular style of indie folk. The deeply serious Gonzalez offers a vastly different singer-songwriter model – occasionally challenging, frequently brooding, always rewarding – with his spectral, subtly expressive sound as a solo act performing on classical guitar. For his first album in nearly eight years, Gonzalez has decided to add elements – a flute here, some light percussion there – to his still predominantly minimalist aesthetic.
Swedish singer-songwriter José González's new album — which is just the third LP from the 36-year-old artist, in a 12-year solo career — sticks to the formula that has served him well in the past. Intricate fingerpicking backs up his soft vocals; melodies flow without urgency; vague but evocative lyrics drift to the surface. González's lyrics focus on aging and the inevitability of loss.
Although many try, few acoustic singer-songwriters have the ability to comfort with voice and guitar alone like José González does. His first two solo records proved almost universally likeable; equally at home calming the maelstrom of teenage emotions yet just as suitable as something your mum might think nice to have on in the background on a Sunday afternoon. The Gothenburg-native’s Scandinavian home provides the backdrop for the González aesthetic; a source of warmth in colder climes – cosier than a steaming cup of tea and an open hearth fire.
An eight-year gap between albums is a long time for any artist, let alone someone as successful as José González. The Swedish singer-songwriter reached the top 10 in the UK Album Chart with his debut, 2005’s Veneer, while his acoustic cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats featured on countless TV programmes and adverts. His 2007 follow-up, In Our Nature, was almost as well-received, making it into the top 20 in the UK chart.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Returning with his third solo album, his first since 2007, José Gonzalez has followed on from where his second record In Our Nature left off. Having initially planned to have only one guitar on the record, in a similar vein to his debut Veneer, he chose to incorporate more layers as he progressed with the recording process.
In the past eight years, Gothenburg singer/songwriter Jose González considered a reversal of the normal evolutionary process - instead of prolonging a solo career that showed signs of escalating even further, he began anew by devoting his time to his pre-González band project Junip. Junip produced a notable discharge that stemmed from emotional dissolution, an extroverted transference of his solo work with a stronger musical backbone. To see him return to a more detached, autonomous sense of self suggests a need to scale back and regroup.
In the eight years since his last release In Our Nature, José González has continually tweaked his spare, quiet acoustic compositions through his band Junip and contributions to various soundtracks and compilations. While his newest, Vestiges & Claws, doesn’t undertake any significant departures in style, additional layers of guitar and vocals subtly evolve his minimalist catalog with warmer and richer tones. The ingredients of the album are the same as those in González’s previous recordings, just added in greater quantities—leading to a thicker, heartier medley of sonic textures.
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One line in particular from Jose Gonzalez's new release might be an apt way to absorb this moody, often-hypnotic acoustic rock album. "Why didn't I see the forest on fire behind the trees," the Swedish singer, guitarist and producer wonders in "The Forest" as a detailed guitar melody offers vivid beauty in the foreground. Behind, a bass flute traces a broad counter-melody, a curlicue flourish that simmers through the work like a glowing ember.
After fronting indie poppers Junip, Sweden's José González returns to his natural métier with third LP Vestiges & Claws. Centering melodies on his soft voice and nylon-string guitar virtuosity, the album, recorded in the singer's kitchen, stretches his sound as he did on 2007's In Our Nature. González folds in bass, flute, percussion, whistles, synth, and rhythms that might induce those so inclined to dance.
Over the last few years, Jose’s Gonzalez’s solo career has been all but overshadowed by his efforts with the band Junip, which may, in the end, prove the vehicle for his big breakthrough. Which is all well and good; Gonzalez is an astute musician who deserves wider recognition however he can get it. Nevertheless, his individual albums ought not be overlooked, even though admittedly, they’ve been somewhat few, and far between.