On his latest release, José González stays in his comfort zone

José González

Local Valley

Imperial · September 17, 2021

Swedish musician José González has proven once again that he is nothing if not consistent. His new album Local Valley should be welcomed warmly by fans of his prior releases, as his quiet vocal tone and intricate fingerpicking patterns on his acoustic guitar haven’t gone anywhere. After the release of the Caribbean-inspired single “Swing,” some may have hoped for a refreshing new direction for González’s solo career, but aside from that track and the addition of some Spanish and Swedish songs to his discography, González has stayed consistent in his style. 

González returned to a previous theme established in his first two albums: covering pop music. González covered “En Stund På Jorden,” an orchestral ballad by Swedish singer Laleh. González’s subdued interpretation of the song gives it a new color, and is definitely compelling when compared to the original piece. In addition to covering a pop artist, González also chose to cover a song by his own folk rock band, Junip. Covering “Line of Fire” may have been a choice based on nostalgia as Junip hasn’t released music since 2013, but it may not have been necessary for the album on the whole. The acoustic reimagining of a song that sounded a lot like González’s solo music to begin with felt a bit boring.

A standout track was definitely the final track, “Honey Honey,” though maybe not for the reasons one may expect. González’s soft voice can make almost anything sound like honey (emphasis on almost anything). What he couldn’t make sound like honey, however, was his use of the word titties in the track. While other tracks describe things as “mindless replicators” and “delusive causal chains,” the use of a word that is more vulgar and less descriptive was somewhat jarring. While there is likely artistic intent in the word choice, as one doesn’t always have the most broad vocabulary while on the brink of orgasm, in the context of Local Valley as a whole the line almost feels silly.

Another exceptional track was “Lasso In,” but not for the same reasons as “Honey Honey.” González guides the listener through the process of calming their mind, telling them to “Lasso in the ruminating thoughts / Acknowledge, pat them, and send them off.” González’s lyrics are reminiscent of grounding exercises one may learn with a psychotherapist. The instrumentals are full with just enough repetition and just enough change to keep someone from drifting off into their intrusive thoughts. The structure and instrumentals of “Lasso In” serve its message well, and is a strong example of José González at his best.

José González is an extremely talented songwriter, vocalist, and musician. He proves this time and time again with each and every release, Local Valley being no exception. However, it is somewhat disappointing to see that González has chosen to rest on his laurels and not venture too far out of what is comfortable. That being said, González’s talent has led him to have a very fruitful music career lasting over 18 years, so maybe small departures from González’s usual style are all he needs to keep an audience engaged.

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