Music Reviews
Vestiges & Claws

José González Vestiges & Claws

(Peacefrog) Rating - 5/10

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. Except that there’s nothing at stake on his latest Vestiges & Claws: instead of coming equipped with an arsenal of ideas, gathered from many years of experience, he lapses into a confusional state that’s often misinterpreted as deep or contemplative.

González does have a laundry list of concerns to ponder, existential dilemmas that are sometimes too purposely notional to really discern. A sensitive thought may mull over his head with unlabored simplicity, like in the spiritual exorcism of Let It Carry You ("loosen built up tensions/let it carry you away"), only to hamper it with poetic insolence like in What Will ("fight for the common cause/free your mind to leave your body behind"). His sense of directness is at odds with his style of laconic brevity, lazy wordplay that is either too ambiguous or falls into metaphysical deliberation. Oftentimes, a spare, beautiful melody is better reduced to just that: in Every Age, he condenses a series of questions with a universal, God’s eye view. It intends  to stir with teary-eyed uplift, though it never amounts to anything at all, just inoffensive, existential pandering that borders on precious.

Perhaps the biggest offense in Vestiges & Claws is how González is entirely self-aware of his pragmatic predicament, and goes as far as to admit as such in the unintentionally parodic final track Open Book. There’s a fair amount of supple finger-picking to enjoy it as pleasant background music, and it's fair to say he hasn’t lost his ability to let his plaintive acoustic guitar sway without the slightest urgency. Still, the “that's life” solemnity that throbs in Vestiges quickly fizzles into a series of narrative incoherent niceties, and becomes a far more rewarding listen when lyrical fragments are taken out of context. Which means that there is, indeed, substance in his stray, drifting thoughts; what’s worrisome is that it never amounts to anything concrete.