Vestiges and Claws
He may still be best known for his cover of “Heartbeats” by the Knife, but over the past decade-plus Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez has won over critics and earned a small, devoted following with his singular style of indie folk. The deeply serious Gonzalez offers a vastly different singer-songwriter model – occasionally challenging, frequently brooding, always rewarding – with his spectral, subtly expressive sound as a solo act performing on classical guitar.
For his first album in nearly eight years, Gonzalez has decided to add elements – a flute here, some light percussion there – to his still predominantly minimalist aesthetic. It makes good sense that Gonzalez is from Sweden: his constrained, gentle guitar picking and inward-looking songwriting are perfect for small spaces and prolonged hibernation. Vestiges And Claws is wintertime music, full of dark chord progressions and haunting melodies from the 36-year-old songwriter.
On his third record, Gonzalez has progressed and made strides in his songwriting, and there are plenty of highlights on this well-crafted ten-song collection. “Take this seed/ Take this spade/ Take this dream of a better day,” he sings halfway through the record, on the big-hearted, warmly hopeful “Every Age.” Meanwhile, the five-and-a-half minute “Let It Carry You,” with its hypnotic, pulsing rhythm and its easy, repetitive pop hook (“Come to lose the anchor and dance the night away”) serves as an entrancing album centerpiece.
Despite the adept lyrical approach, Gonzalez’ guitar virtuosity is still one of the main draws here, as shown in the woody instrumental track “Vissell.” Elsewhere, Gonzalez doubles down on his rhythmic, classicist approach, and the result is the most fully expansive record of his career. By the time the last song, “Open Book,” comes around, Gonzalez has truly opened up: the clean, sunny melodic song feels like a breath of fresh air coming after the dark spaces and haunting rhythms of the rest of Vestiges And Claws. “Feel just like an open book,” he sings, “a couple of words was all it took.” – JONATHAN BERNSTEIN