Review: Jose Gonzalez Wanders Deep Into a Local Valley

Jose Gonzalez/Local Valley/Mute
Four out of Five Stars

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Swedish singer, songwriter, and guitarist Jose Gonzalez carves out intimate song sketches that share his proficiency and passion. Both on his own and with his sometimes ensemble Junip, he makes music that offers a luminous glow even within an intimate embrace. A masterful musician, his playing combines the mastery of a Segovia with vocals that echo the shared solitude and circumspect of Nick Drake.  His is a tapestry of texture and finesse, stunning in scope and yet intimate and introspective, all immersed in a genial folkish noir.

Local Valley, his fourth solo album and first since Vestiges & Claws in 2015, is no different, and yet beneath its quiet, contemplative veneer, Gonzalez goes to deeper depths by asking often unfathomable questions that are now newly relevant in today’s troubled, tumultuous environs. On songs such as “Visions” and “Head On,” he takes an unblemished view of a world gone awry, where ecological concerns are relegated to a back burner and humanity itself is subjugated to the whims of a selfish few. Granted, it’s a decidedly somber view, and while Gonzalez’s hushed perspective and transient tones reflect a meditative stance, the sheer beauty of the music has a hypnotic affect. Ambient sounds, synths, and teeming textures fill the void, ringing with an assurance that’s melodic, meticulous, and existential in voice and vision.  

That’s not to say that Gonzalez is bound by dogma or desire. Although “El Invento,” “Void,” “Horizons,” and “Honey Honey” rarely rise above a whisper, forcing one to lean in and listen, they resonate with a haunting, if sometimes harrowing, embrace. Even when Gonzalez picks up the pace with the tangled tempo of “Valle Local,” the shuffled rhythms of “Swing” and “Lasso In” or the tuneful whistles and chants underscoring “Lilla G,” he still manages to evoke a quiet, contemplative tableau that’s evocative and assured, all in equal measure. 

Ultimately, Local Valley becomes a place where melody and mystique are woven well in tandem and relentless reflection gives way to a sense of clarity and comfort. Be assured the depth of devotion is never in doubt.

Photo by Hannele Fernstrom

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