A beautiful album for lovers of acoustic, singer-songwriter and general chilled vibes.
José Gonzalez has long been on the underground scene of singer-songwriters, and along with his side project Junip, his talent is undeniable, yet somewhat underrated. His stunning new solo and self-produced release Vestiges and Claws solidifies his place amongst artists like Ben Howard and Bon Iver. Gonzalez’s cover of fellow Swede group The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’ is a widely recognised and well-loved track, especially in the sunshine, and a lot of his success could be attributed to this beautiful cover. Previous releases from Gonzalez have done exceptionally well, in the UK alone his debut Veneer sold just under half a million copies! And both his first album and sophomore (In Our Nature) albums made the UK Top 10 and Top 20 respectively.
Although originally from Gothenburg, Sweden, Gonzalez utilises a Spanish style of guitar playing which is in part influenced through his Argentinean heritage. Gonzalez’s methodological approach to music and the employment of such repetitive techniques can be explained through his scientific background – with the release of his debut album in 2003 interfering with the completion of his PHD in Biochemistry.
Vestiges and Claws, perhaps more so than any of his previous releases, could be described as an extremely personal record, and is also clearly offering a wider comment on humanity, despite the initial simplicity of the music. Lyrics like; “What will it be? Our legacy?” and “I feel myself just like an open book…thinking that everyone has gone through different kinds of hell”, demonstrate how this is a truly reflective album from Gonzalez, his lyrics will relate to audiences on a deeper level – more so than your average Nicki Minaj track. The fact that Gonzalez wrote and recorded the majority of this record by himself in his home studio in adds to the haunting ambiance that resonates across all of the tracks.
The entirety of the album works on the premise of basic riffs and repeating rhythms, which is a favoured technique of Gonzalez. Tracks like ‘Afterglow’, and ‘The Forest‘ are beautifully hypnotic in their simplicity with layers building and backing instruments weaving in and out of Gonzalez’s unfalteringly, effortless vocals. The entrancing song ‘Vissel’ slows the tempo down again and acts as a contrast to some of the punchier tracks on the album.
One criticism is that of the continuity of this album within his discography, including that of his side project Junip. This album doesn’t necessarily show any progression or movement away from the sound that fans know and love, but then I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. BUT for newcomers I think a potential danger with Jose Gonzalez’s music on a whole (not just this album), is that most songs on first listen have the tendency to sound very similar. But I urge you to listen to this album a few times over (with a few candles and incense on…) you will fall in love with his soft, melodic tracks and that trademark hauntingly gentle voice.
Vestiges and Claws is out now via Mute records.