It is disconcerting to recall that some nine years have passed since those 170,000 bouncing balls brightly parading down a San Francisco street was soundtracked by Jose Gonzalez's breezy acoustic number "Heartbeats" in that famous Sony Bravo advert. His subsequent debut album "Veneer" was a huge smash and left the quiet Swedish singer songwriter struggling to hit those heights in its follow up "In our nature." After a long break Gonzalez returns with this new album "Vestiges and claws" and it is good to report that while his hybrid of Nick Drake meets Paul Simon and jams with Mark Kozelek template is at the heart of this record, it feels fuller, thicker and more substantial than past efforts.
"What Will" is the longest song on the album from where the title stems is classic Gonzalez a rolling set of acoustics that builds up a quiet storm after a slight pause around. 2.50 minutes. It has all the Gonzalez trademarks especially that lovely finger picking style and oozes melancholy atmosphere. Other tracks like the opener "With the ink of a ghost" are simply beautiful and evoke autumnal moods. There is nonetheless a new urgency on this record in songs like "Let it carry you" and this faster pace works well with his softly spoken vocals. The same applies to a standout track "Leaf off/the Cave" which could have the making of another classic like "Crosses". Finally the simplicity of "Open book" rounds off the album with a satisfying slow acoustic glow.
Some might argue that Gonzalez is ploughing the same furrow as "Veneer" and there is some truth in that. But "Vestiges and Claws" is much more mature work with a fuller sound. It is an album for quiet reflection and contemplation and that is fine. It is good to have Jose Gonzalez back in his solo guise after many years and this new record shows that his musical dexterity and process have significantly increased over time while his songwriting skills have exponentially leaped.
Review by Red on Black