It’s been nearly eight years since José González has put out a solo album, during which time he has been busy with his band Junip, but that changed in February with the release of Vestiges & Claws, his third full-length release under his own name. His solo recordings distinguish themselves from the band by being quieter, more acoustic, and more directly focused on González as a singer-songwriter. So it was no surprise when, on Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club, his show was a sparser affair than when Junip last played at the venue in 2013.
Junip’s debut album, 2010’s Fields, was perfectly illustrative of what singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez does so well, a fusion of perfectly plucked classical guitar that weaves in and out of synthesizers and driving drum beats. The sound is indicative of the cloth it’s cut from; Gonzalez is an Argentinian who was raised primarily in Sweden, and (normally) he’s able to perform a balancing act between Latin acoustic music and the pop sensibilities of fellow Swedes First Aid Kit and Lykke Li. Fields never wavered in its ability to keep the listener engaged, alternating from near cacophony to beautifully polished simplicity and, because of nearly constant, perfectly produced beats, never once allowed the listener to turn away. Even the two disc special edition of the record, which added the 11 songs from the Rope and Summit and Black Refuge EPs, never wavered, ending with an angry solo version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad.” As we noted in our review of Fields, the album “creates an energy that seems to almost swirl out of the speakers, covering you with a blanket of sound.”
Junip’s self-titled follow up, unfortunately, doesn’t come close to creating that same energy. More often than not, this feels like an album of tracks that weren’t interesting enough to make it on Fields, and more often than that, it’s all too easy to tune out the music and start thinking about what you’re having for dinner, or what you’ve got going on this weekend. Quite the opposite of engaging, this is music that is best used for falling asleep on a plane.
SOUNDS LIKE: Lord Huron, John Vanderslice, and, obviously, José Gonzalez
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE: The band’s 2010 release, Fields, was an acoustic/chillwave masterpiece
Odds are good you’ve heard José Gonzalez’s fantastic tenor and perfectly plucked nylon strings at some point, whether you know it or not. Whether covering The Knife in a commercial for Sony, contributing that same acoustic skill to British Duo Zero 7, or even while you were crossing the border into Mexico in Red Dead Redemption, Gonzalez’s music seems to pop up everywhere, and that’s a good thing. The Swedish-Argentine Gonzalez has reassembled the trio Junip, which he recently described as “somewhere between a German jazz band and an African pop band,” for a self-titled follow-up to the spectacular Fields. The band has released the first single from the record, “Line of Fire,” in which Gonzalez’s quiet guitar is eventually overpowered by an orchestral wall of sound. It portends great things for the full album, which will be released this spring.
When a band's debut album is a decade in the making, you know there must be a great backstory there somewhere. Was the album's delay caused by obsessive perfectionism? Artistic differences? The old standby, rock 'n roll excess?
If you’ve never heard of the band Junip before, you’re not alone. Fronted by renowned folk singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez, the band’s 2010 release Fields eschews his typical stripped down acoustic delivery in favor of a more rounded, almost jammy sound. Joining Gonzalez in Junip are Tobias Winterkorn on keyboards, and Elias Araya on drums.
Together, they manage to weave a sound that will be familiar to fans of Gonzalez’s solo work, but it’s definitely something more than just the Jose Gonzalez Band.
The record’s spontaneous sound gives the whole thing a “first take” sort of feel. It’s like you are standing in the room where it was recorded as the trio fills every space with a mix of funky classical guitar, mellow, vamped out drum lines, and keyboard sounds that shift from prog-space rock to hints of Ray Manzarak’s organ and electric piano...