One line in particular from Jose Gonzalez's new release might be an apt way to absorb this moody, often-hypnotic acoustic rock album. "Why didn't I see the forest on fire behind the trees," the Swedish singer, guitarist and producer wonders in "The Forest" as a detailed guitar melody offers vivid beauty in the foreground. Behind, a bass flute traces a broad counter-melody, a curlicue flourish that simmers through the work like a glowing ember.
Believe it or not, this is Gonzalez's first solo album in nearly eight years. His previous albums featured Gonzalez on electric and acoustic guitars and not much else. After that, the singer turned his attention to Junip, a trio that reveled in energetic mantras recalling the work of early '70s German groups Can and Neu.
"Vestiges & Claws" feels like a convergence of these two paths, both eager to thrive within tight structures and layers of sound, but not so rigid as to resist expanding into deeper grooves. A gathering of work filled with "landscapes blurred by rain" and "petty thievery, tribal rivalry," the record feels remarkably of a whole, one long meditation divided into 10 sessions.
Is it "soft"? Yes, Gonzalez, who produced the album, prefers gentleness to dissonance. Does it rock? Mostly, in the same way that Jorge Ben or Tom Ze could occasionally rock. But "Vestiges & Claws" seldom seems cloying. Mostly, it sidesteps the mush factor to land on solid ground.
"Vestiges & Claws"
Three stars (out of four)