Review Summary: Every age has its turn.
Though we do occasionally need to be reminded, a lot has happened since 2007 when Jose Gonzalez released his previous full-length In Our Nature
. We’ve seen the first United States President of African-American descent, we’ve seen the largest financial recession in recent memory, we’ve seen the looming threat of the Ebola virus, and – apparently – survived a Mayan apocalypse. It’s only until you imagine yourself transported back to a time when such events had yet to take place that you appreciate the significance of what has transpired. It seems appropriate then, that Jose’s latest album is entitled Vestiges & Claws
, a vestige being a remnant of something eroding away with time. Indeed, Jose is totally conscious of the fact that a lot can change in eight years, and yet the inimitable chemistry between him and his instrument remains unaltered, transfixed in a completely inward manner.
Jose uses a stream of recurrent finger-plucked melodies to form a rhythm, while subtle percussion – be it fingers tapping upon a pick guard, restrained clapping of an onlooker, or the gentle click of a pair of claves – fills as much of an aesthetic roll as it does a strictly musical one. “The Forest” sees a rare expedition into the use of traditional backing instruments, with a solitary flute whistling away, gracefully dancing in tandem with the ringing guitar notes and creating a gorgeous contrast that persists until the song’s closure. Jose’s charismatic, whisper-quiet crooning compounds the poignant nature of the instrumentation, so much so that it manages to achieve an emotional response even when the subject matter is ignored completely – not that such a listening habit is recommended. As the title would suggest, his vague yet elegant lyrics deal with the inevitable loss of all things that one holds dear, and the futility of resisting the course of nature and time, hence the use of lines like “let it carry you away” and “may the life lead you out” as lyrical cruxes. But, as has always been the case with Jose’s solo work, often it isn’t about what words are written or what notes are being played, but how he is saying them and how he is playing them.
The passive vocal delivery on Vestiges & Claws
leaves the subject matter open to interpretation, and whether or not the gravity of life, time and death should be seen as a positive or a negative is left for the listener to decide. The finesse with which he achieves such powerful crescendos from a singular acoustic guitar is rather extraordinary, while his mastery of textures comes into play on numerous occasions – most notably through the deliberate use of fret buzz in “Afterglow“. However, his ear for detail extends far beyond mere quirks that would otherwise be perceived as mistakes, right down the timbre of his hand sliding between chord shapes upon the neck. He sporadically lifts his index finger to deaden individual notes and emphasize any given song’s percussive tendencies, and drags his nails upon the strings to make creaking yet supple nuances. Having been recorded and produced entirely of Jose’s accord, the album has a chic roughness to it, and frequencies occasionally peak and fizzle away. The overall aesthetic gives the impression of someone who is proficient, but without an ounce of pretence, perfectly happy for the world to scrutinise his endeavours and bask in his human fallibility. For this reason, Vestiges & Claws
is extraordinarily easy to connect with, even if one doesn’t identify with a particular subject or message.
Vestiges & Claws
is a paradoxical piece of work in that Jose is so stylistically rigid, yet so mindful of the effects of time that it forms the thematic heart of the very album that appears to disregard it. Certainly, one could accuse Jose of being lazy or treading water, but the fact of the matter is that he doesn’t care, and this is beautifully communicated through his music and his lyrics. Whatever qualms one might have are completely irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, as time will continue to run its course, picking and choosing what will be remembered, and what will be washed away in sea of forgotten anecdotes.