José González: Local Valley Album Review

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José González never seems in a hurry. He takes his time both in song and in life: The Gap Between Swedish songwriter’s third solo album, 2015’s Remains & Claws, and fourth, Local valley, was long enough to encompass the entirety of Trump’s presidency, several Lorde rebranding, and some 13 King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard albums. Empires rise and fall; celebrity weddings come and go. Yet the basic elements of González’s sound have been more or less preserved in amber since the 2003s. Varnish: sparse arrangements, complex acoustic fingerpicking, gently philosophical lyrics, and a plaintive voice halfway between a whisper and a croon. Never creepy enough for the freak-folk movement nor cold enough for the Jack Johnson’s, González has carved his own niche for himself, imbuing his music with a sense of timelessness that is impervious to trends but also sensitive to a similarity that can be. stifling.

Recorded at the bucolic home studio in González near the Swedish coast, Local valley doesn’t bring big reinventions, but gently modifies the songwriter’s approach and injects a little rhythmic bounce into his writing, making it a livelier and more playful album than Remains & Claws. The record opens on a sleepy note, with home-recorded bird songs adorning the new-age musings of “Visions” and guitars rustling like a delicate forest in “Horizons”. None of the first four songs rise above a pleasant whisper. But somewhere around ‘Head On’ – a standout track that’s as close as González comes close to a protest song, with claps stomping on his punches against ‘corrupt oligarchs’ and ‘thieves of power’ –Local valley pick up the pace.

English-speaking songwriter born in Sweden to Argentinian parents, González has always been a cross-cultural talent. In interviews, he highlighted the fact that Local valley is his first album to contain songs in each of his three languages. The first single “El Invento” combines Spanish lyrics with one of his trademark open tunings, while “Tjomme” and the only cover of the album, “En Stund På Jorden”, a song by the Iranian pop singer. Swedish Laleh, which he reduced to its simplest essence, are sung in Swedish. Covers are a longstanding tradition of González, but for an American listener unfamiliar with Laleh, this last song could easily be mistaken for one of his own.

Yet the most surprising element of the album is the uptempo rhythms and electronic pulses that spice up the back half of the album. González spent time tinkering with a DM1 drum machine app on his iPad, which livens up the tempos and brings a welcome bounce to mantra-like grooves like “Lasso In”. “Lilla G”, written for the young daughter of González, is a dreamy folktronica reverie carried by beautiful soft harmonies and well deployed whistles. And “Swing” is the biggest departure for the songwriter, both because of his wacky lyrics (“Swing your belly, baby,” he urges again and again) and his prominent reggaetón rhythm.

González said the Caribbean style of the song reflects the music he enjoys listening to at home. But his foray into creating beats, especially on “Swing” and “Tjomme”, seems superficial at best. He has already tried electronic textures; “Cello Song”, sound 2009 Dark was the night the collaboration with the Books (featuring the song of the same name by Nick Drake) was excellent. These new songs are energizing for González, but they lack that sense of true discovery, of a songwriter far removed from his usual comfort. Instead of letting the drum machine reshape his handwriting, he primarily uses it as a metronome.

Local valley returns to pastoral tranquility in its final moments, with the tranquil “Honey Honey” essentially serving as a duet between González and more chirping birds. It’s a nice little start, even if the main emotion it arouses is the desire to visit the Swedish countryside. For González, I imagine, it sounds like home.


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