Jose Gonzalez’s hallmark talents apparent in “Vestiges and Claws”

Courtesy of Imperial Records
Courtesy of Imperial Records

Jose Gonzalez, Swedish indie folk singer, songwriter and guitarist, has released his most recent work, “Vestiges and Claws,” in a return to much of the same melancholic, spatial folk music he has released in the past. The album is a series of 10 midtempo indie folk jams that use Gonzalez’s usual formula of layered finger-style nylon guitar playing and layered vocals. If you’ve followed Gonzalez’s solo work, it’s a sound you are familiar with and one that is unmistakably Jose Gonzalez. The album provides some interesting guitar textures of what could potentially be a change in sound, but nothing in particular stands out too heavily.

“Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” has a great groove to it, swinging and giving life to the song, almost giving it an improvisational feel. Lyrics in the song such as “they’ll get to you” combined with sounds appearing to be tonally influenced by artists like Django Reinhardt, gives the track a jazz vibe. “Every Age” adds a reverberating percussion sound to Gonzalez’s usual guitar tone and singing style, making the song reminiscent of older folk music, particularly that of the ‘60s. The song feels reminiscent of artists like Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan, with drums sounding like the ghosts of old protesters clapping along to songs of revolution. The drum continues throughout the song, somewhat in the background but not easily ignored. With its beautiful simplicity, “Vissel” is comprised of a repeated guitar phrase, with melody provided by only a whistle. This gives the track a sense of minimalist beauty, leaving it with a lot of open space that nicely fits the overall mood of the album.

One of the most interesting tracks on the album, especially to those who are fans of technical skill is “What Will.” On this song, Gonzalez truly shows off his abilities as an acoustic guitar player. Complex fingerpicking patterns played in a percussive style create a beautifully textured song that is equally impressive in both ethereal ambiance and composition. Throughout, Gonzalez takes the main riff and shifts the way he plays it, adding extra notes, changing the tempo and rearranging the same complex guitar pattern, making this track feel very much alive.

The album has its bright moments and is a comforting piece of music to enjoy but what it ultimately lacks is diversity. “Vestiges and Claws” is able to build a consistent mood and ambiance, as well as introducing some interesting compositional ideas. The only problem is that Gonzalez seems to be working within that pocket of sound that he has made distinctly his and here only shows hints toward some sort of progression. The songs “With the Ink of a Ghost,” “The Forest” and “Open Book” all sound interchangeable, and are composed of the same basic formula: finger picking and moody vocals. Nothing is added to these songs to make them interesting and they have no outstanding aspect to them other than they sound like Jose Gonzalez songs. “Let It Carry You,” “Leaf Off/The Cave” and “After Glow” also suffer from the same problem, the only difference being that they are slightly more percussive. These songs comprise more than half the album and all feel like padding for the only four legitimately interesting tracks on the album.

If you are a fan of Gonzalez then you will most likely enjoy this record and for those curious to listen to his music this would be as good a place as any to begin. For those who have not enjoyed his work, however, this album is most definitely not a turning point.

Rating: 3 stars

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