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José González – Vestiges & Claws

  • Published in Albums

Just sometimes, it feels that the concept of man with an acoustic guitar overshadows certain artists and they end up bunched together with claims of “it’s been done before”, “they’ve done it before” by lazy or, for lack of a better phrase, downright full of shit critics. Whilst the latest José González record Vestiges & Claws does have the occasional similarities to Simon & Garfunkel’s vocal delivery or undertones of Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon, and whilst both are unquestionably masters of their own form, neither are as classically trained as González, nor have they come across using a hefty dose of South American samba and bossa nova beats, some infusion of Caribbean Tropicana or new age Asian influences.

The thing with González is that he has an unmistakeable musical landscape. Whether it’s covering fellow Swedish siblings The Knife’s 'Heartbeats', Kylie Minogue’s 'Hand On Your Heart', or even going on to cover a song by the Dead Kennedys (not as surprising as you would think, having played in a hardcore band inspired by them), it’s certain that the song will undergo a reduction and come out as a polished arrangement. A José González song not inspired by Nick Drake, or Simon & Garfunkel, but an intricate classical guitar inspired arrangement, that is just what the tracks on Vestiges & Claws are. 

That is to say, you wouldn’t pour petrol onto a bolognese sauce and reduce it with a flamethrower, to then claim it was “inspired by Jamie Oliver” because he reduces the wine in his recipe. 

Quite often the claims that González has done this all before are normally derived of his slight disaffected vocal delivery, where some critics will not be content until he comes out hollering like Luciano Pavarotti, but therein lies the irony. The vocal disaffection provides the musical arrangement the opportunity to lend deep rooted emotion to the songs. This is further compounded by each track’s mesmerising, meditative, repetitive hypnosis, but they will also contain their own slight nuance for those all-too-busy critics who claim that it’s background music to completely miss if they’re not willing to be induced.

Oh, the cheek of it! Particularly when reviewing probably the most chilled out singer-songwriter on the planet right now.

If people want to hear González do something a little different, then they need not worry. That’s what he was doing with his folk rock band Junip, and the reason for the seven and a bit years wait from when he dropped his last solo effort In Our Nature. An experience which has evidentially paid dividends for the Swede descended from Argentine parents. Vestiges & Claws is self-produced by González and the result is an altogether more concentrated, stronger and warmer release than his previous two records.

‘With the Ink of a Ghost’ and ‘Open Book’, the only two tracks without anything other than vocals and classical guitar are the bookends for Vestiges & Claws, and thus the compositions with lesser intricacies. These tracks could be perceived as pacemakers for the album, and although true to an extent, Vestiges & Claws never really busts a nut. 

Our first real glimpse of González’s production style comes to the fore on the second track ‘Let It Carry You’ and it isn’t just different from the opener, but a catalogue of songs spanning his first two albums. Staccato driven bass notes are interlaced with finger snaps and handclaps and where it all might sound minimalistic to the listener; by González’s standards it’s not difficult to imagine him on the lash and having a party to himself. 

As with many of the tracks here, those finger snaps and handclaps are a mainstay, much is the subtlety of Vestiges & Claws. They follow straight onto ‘Stories We Build, Stories We Tell’ but his South American roots are highlighted as it’s underpinned by a bossa nova groove and dull percussive samba taps. This style is in stark contrast to the new age Asian influenced ‘The Forest’, mainly for its meditative Chinese styled flute arrangement which depicts a wonderful imagery as González nonchalantly sings: “Landscapes blurred by rain/Mountains covered in snow.”

Latest single ‘Leaf Off/The Cave’ challenges theocratic beliefs from a humanist standpoint - a theme that was widely noticeable on In Our Nature. The instrumental ‘Vissel’ is another track reliant solely on imagery. With a peaceful and sparse Asian inspired acoustic loop accompanied by an off-key whistle for over three minutes, it’s the album’s moment for contemplation or, if you prefer, self-sedation.

If these tracks are bunched together as just more indie-folk songs, then the craft here, which is José González as a composer, is missed. Or just maybe, the need for other critics to constantly compare him to the likes of Nick Drake, Elliot Smith, John Martyn et al, is because these are the names that González deserves to be recognised with. Nick Drake isn’t an indie-folk artist to anyone, he’s Nick Drake. The same will be said for Elliott Smith. Likewise, González deserves his own acclaim and it’s clear that this is more than merited, and all the more so for Vestiges & Claws.

Vestiges & Claws is available from amazon & iTunes.

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