WORDS: ANDREW SAMPSON
It was almost serendipity. Almost…
I was sifting through iTunes desperately looking for new music; music that could transport me to another landscape and allow me to explore it for a while. I had become disillusioned with the music on my iPod (Erykah Badu, The Fugees, Paul Simon, etc.) and knew that I needed to find a new artist that I could be obsessed with and ultimately exploit. I skimmed through the ‘Alternative’ section on iTunes and a particular album cover caught my eye – grey-blue with an eye in the centre enclosed by some sort of fence (forgive me, descriptions aren’t my strong suit) – I knew (and felt), almost instantaneously, that I had to give this album a listen.
The 36-year-old Swedish folksinger José González’s Vestiges & Claws, his third studio offering and first album in 8 years, had not only caught my eye but captured my mind, body, heart and soul.
From the onset, the album grabbed me by the ear and whisked me far, far away to a tranquil place – the warm and melancholic compositions; the raw and raspy but organic and clear vocals were all characteristics which made this album a terrific listen. One moment I was sitting quietly by a river; the next I was under an oak tree, then finally sitting on a stoep admiring the city lights and staring at the stars. This album allowed me to visit familiar places and see them through a new lens; with brand new eyes.
I yearned for moments on the album when he would whisper (album opener “With the Ink of a Ghost” is a prime example) and sigh his carefully crafted lyrics, or delicately strum or pluck warm chords on his guitar (the fragility of “Vissel” is an example) – a trait which gave the album an irresistible sonic appeal.
The instrumentation he uses is sparse, relying mostly on his voice, an acoustic guitar and light backing percussion (featuring a flute in “The Forest”) showcasing the romantic relationship between his lyricism and instrumentation. González allows the album to be cohesive and ‘flow’ from one track into the other, much like a river.
Despite being branded as ‘Indie folk’ and having limited instrumentation, the album is still adventurous and without any frills or embellishments – just the way I like it. And if you’re an old-school fan of Nick Drake, or even contemporaries like Iron & Wine and Ray LaMontagne, then this album should definitely appeal to you.
His music is perhaps not revolutionary or ground-breaking but on Vestiges & Claws, González is self-aware and focused and this album is no exception. It represents multi-faceted human beings in all the pitfalls, triumphs and contradictions of our lives.
In this context, the album is triumphant.
In essence, Vestiges & Claws was an album made to be savoured slowly. It was produced so that the listener could appreciate the snap, crackle and pop of the vinyl record (which I recommend it should be played on for a fuller, more wholesome sound) as you slowly slip into another dimension. I was in search of something refreshing but did not expect my findings to be this rewarding.
Ultimately, I’m glad I “stumbled” upon this treasure.