Jose Gonzalez- Vestiges and Claws

Released: 2/17/2015

5/7 stars

Listening to Vestiges and Claws is similar to sitting in a college philosophy course. However, instead of listening to an old, dull professor drone on about Nietzsche in a lecture hall, we’re listening to Jose Gonzalez’s soft, musical voice muse over life’s peculiarities.

Although it’s been seven years since his last solo release, the critically acclaimed, In Our Nature, Gonzalez has been busy making electro-folk music under the name Junip and he has contributed to a variety of albums, most notably the soundtrack of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

Vestiges and Claws was by no means a rushed album, and the listener can hear the careful production and the effort that Gonzalez took in writing the lyrics throughout the album. Using nothing more than simple percussion, guitar, and vocals, Gonzalez creates a multi-layered album that reflects the questions he has wrestled with and the lessons he has learned in the time that it took him to create the album.

On “Every Age,” the lead single off the album, Gonzalez muses, “Every age/has it’s turn/every branch of the tree has to learn/learn to crawl/find it’s way/make the best of it’s short-lived stay.” An obvious metaphor for a young person finding their way through life, Gonzalez uses the song to reflect on the a bigger truth, how to live a life to it’s fullest. Underscored by minimalist percussion and a rough guitar, his voice takes the main stage during the song, making it one of the strongest on the album.

As a musician, Gonzalez shines brightest as a songwriter. However, on Vestiges and Claws, the instrumentals occasionally steal the limelight. For example, “Vissel” is completely void of any vocals, but it’s no sleeper track. Conversely, “Open Book,” the album closer, relies more on Gonzalez’s vocals, yet is still a highlight on the album.

“What Will,” which features the lyrics that give the album it’s name, has a mesmerizing percussion beat that has obvious West African influences. Gonzalez explained that the album is heavily influenced by a curious mix of 70’s Brazilian music, West African desert blues, and American folk-rock. The transcontinental inspiration not only explains the album’s incredibly unique sound, but it also reveals the amount of thought that Gonzalez put into the album. Although a careful ear can easily discern the different sounds, the casual listener would not, proving the cohesiveness of the 10-track album.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Afterglow.” The track is instrumentally textured, with a mostly simple chord progression up until the bridge mixed with percussion that sounds eerily similar to a rattlesnake. Gonzalez repeats “All of this/is because of it” throughout the song, and although what he’s referring to is ambiguous, the listener can really insert anything into the sentence and the song makes sense.

And that truly sums up the appeal of Vestiges and Claws. Listener’s can get caught up in Gonzalez’s complex, philosophical lyrics, which they should because they’re well written and thought-provoking. However, he he gives the rest of the music the same attention as the lyrics. The instrumentals vary, yet are cohesive, and the album is arranged in a way that makes sense; it’s an album in the truest sense, not just a collection of random songs he has written and recorded in the years since his last release.