José González ‘Vestiges and Claws’
Erin McAuliffe | Wednesday, February 18, 2015
They say don’t judge a book by its cover, but what do they say about judging music by its album cover?
“Vestiges and Claws,” José González’s new album released Tuesday, features a simple white sketch of an eye surrounded by foliage for its album art. It is reminiscent of his past album covers, simple and pleasant.
This is also the aesthetic I would attribute to the album itself: true to González but nothing new or experimental — overly safe.
Despite features on a few soundtracks, including “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” and work on albums with Junip, the Swedish folk-rock band he has fronted since 1998, this is the first work González has released since 2007’s “In Our Nature.” One would assume that an artist’s sound would evolve and change during this length of time, and he would come back rearing to experiment and implement new techniques. However, this was not the case with José González and “Vestiges and Claws.”
The dictionary definition of vestige is, “a mark, trace, or visible evidence of something that is no longer present or in existence.” This album is almost a direct translation of González’s sound on past work, making for an ironic title. Perhaps a vestige mentality, initiating risks and evolving his stylings while keeping traces of his known sound, would have made this a more exciting return for González.
The self-produced album features three ethereal layers, percussion, guitar and vocals, that recess or take precedence harmoniously. In a time of music with umpteen electronic components and involved instrumental and vocal arrangements, it is the welcome, relaxing reprieve you need while traversing across campus in a snowstorm.
Case in point, “Let It Carry You,” will do just that on a trek from North Dining Hall to DeBartolo. The repeating downbeats lull you into a march, while the upbeat plucking combined with González’s sputtering vocals channel the snow falling around you — turning the dusting into something more sublime than a hassle.
“Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” sums up the idea behind González’s lyricism on this album. What he simplifies in production and composition, he elaborates in songwriting. “The stories we tell / Oh, they’ll get to you,” González croons in a way that does just that. The lyrics evoke emotion but do so without conformation, sometimes without you even realizing it — a more subliminal, circuitous approach to “getting to you.”
However it is hard for these lyrics to so lazily reach you when they compete with guitar fingerpicking that sounds, with input from my #dad who introduced me to José, “like the white man’s overbite clap, when someone has no beat but is trying to clap on time so they are overly focused” and “guitar that sounds like a cheap recording — or maybe it is my free beats — not the headset.”
González’s laid-back, catch-it-if-you-can style is attuned to González’s album as a whole. His enunciation, although improved from past work, still tapers at times to the point of being uninterpretable.
The sound and appeal of the album is true to González, however, it proves less haunting in its third iteration. After eight years of anticipation, filled with replaying González’s past albums to exhaustion, his new work does not bring a reprieve — just ten new, non-distinct songs to throw onto my “Sleep” playlist.