Jose Gonzalez, ‘Vestiges & Claws’ – Album Review
It’s probably only a matter of time before psychiatrists begin officially prescribing the music of Jose Gonzalez to treat any number of mental maladies. The sound – usually nothing more than the delicate, whisper-soft vocals of Gonzalez and his fingers effortlessly dancing across nylon guitar strings – evokes an almost womb-like warmth. But the simplicity belies the complexity of his subject matter – often hiding existential and metaphysical questions within what would seem like otherwise innocuous, breezy indie folk.
In a way, ‘Vestiges & Claws,’ the first album from the Swedish-born singer-songwriter since 2007’s ‘In Our Nature,’ is like a sophisticated children’s album for adults: bright, hopeful and working on a nearly physiological level while your subconscious takes in perspective-changing lessons about the world around you. Instead of learning about the alphabet and manners, you’ll ponder the universe and mankind’s place in it.
That’s not to suggest there’s anything rudimentary about the album. Produced by Gonzalez himself and humming with lo-fi aesthetics, each of the 10 songs are breezy and meandering but still brimming with deliberation. Gonzalez is still every bit the acoustic guitar virtuoso and the album ebbs and flows along with his light finger-picking and frenetic strumming. The production is so tight and intimate, you can almost feel the strings vibrating against the wooden grain of the guitar as Gonzalez allows the recording to pop and crackle with imperfection.
He’s also steadily added to his sonic repertoire since the release of his 2003 debut, ‘Veneer,’ introducing sparse rhythmic elements like handclaps and strains of exotic instrumentation he’s discovered during his travels. The result is the fullest sounding album from Gonzalez yet while still stretched out enough to leave plenty of space for contemplation.
While he was searching for answers with ‘In Our Nature,’ Gonzalez seems more at peace with himself on ‘Vestiges & Claws,’ aware of mankind’s shortfalls and resigned to enjoy the rest of the ride. When he sings, “All of this will be gone someday / You and me and everyone we know,” on ‘Afterglow,’ it’s somehow both depressing and uplifting – as if there’s no sense in worrying about many of our insignificant and ultimately temporary problems.
Much of the album, however, has a far more overtly hopeful message. ‘Leaf Off/The Cave,’ is perhaps the liveliest, bustling with a danceable rhythm and layers of vocals all as Gonzalez encourages you to “let the light lead you out” of darkness.
But it's the relatively quick-paced 'Let it Carry You' that contains what could be Gonzalez's thesis: "Tune in, realize nothing's wrong / and dissolve into the foam of things near, of things gone / To remind our restless souls of the beauty of being here at all."