José González - Vestiges & Claws

by Jessikah Hope Stenson

It’s fair to say that José González has thorough experience of the music industry. This makes his third album, Vestiges & Claws, highly anticipated – we can all witness what Gonzalez really has to offer. Prepare yourself for intricate, acoustic riffs that complement González’s soothing vocal tones; far from the bland likes of Ed Sheeran. Songs like Let It Carry You are complex and magnificently constructed to be a serious ear-pleaser. Other songs, such as Every Age and Afterglow, slow the pace of the album and allow you to truly appreciate the thought and emotion that González is expressing.

With The Ink Of A Ghost combines multiple layers to create a stand–out song, easily comparable to the likes of Ben Howard. However, With The Ink Of A Ghost is the only song on Vestiges & Claws to reach some sort of climax, as all of the others fade out as soon as they have finished fading in. Any one of these tracks could appear in successful movie soundtracks as all are effectively cinematic. Tracks like Stories We Build, Stories We Tell aren’t intrusive – they create atmosphere rather than build emotion. Unfortunately, this means that some of the songs can feel bland and overly subtle. Despite Let It Carry You having a strong and impressive acoustic beat, this fails to build throughout the song, giving the lasting impression of a feeling of emptiness.

This LP would be better suited as an EP. González does not have enough to say over ten tracks and so some fall short of his usually high quality. Intelligent riffs found in the likes of Leaf Off/The Cave and What Will become monotonous and too repetitive. Likewise, there are too many songs like The Forest, Every Age, and Open Book which adopt a slow pace; this causes the album to seem sluggish rather than delicate. Similarly, Vissel acts as a three minute interlude and so Vestiges & Claws can almost blur into one forty minute long song. A beautiful song, yet far too long.

Afterglow is a rare gem on the album and arguably represents González the best. From the seemingly autobiographical lyrics to the gentle whistling, this track has a genuine feel. González packs the song with inspiring and subtly empowering lyrics:

A drifting vessel in the storm, Pushed around from shore to shore. I know there’s so much left to see And know I have so much left to give.

Incidentally, the best song on Vestiges & Claws is also the shortest.

González is not breaking records with Vestiges & Claws but is exhibiting his talent as though he is playing for a friend in his house. As a listener, Vestiges & Claws can feel like a rehearsal we are intruding upon. Certain songs sound unfinished. Imperfection can be beautiful, but these songs appear to be lacking power. With barely any powerful choruses or memorable bridges, the album struggles in places.

The title of Vestiges & Claws implies holding on to something that is now lost, seemingly referring to González’s talent as a songwriter. Sorry González, but these new releases aren’t in the same league as the likes of Heartbeats (albeit an excellent reworked cover of a song originally by The Knife).