Seven years after his last solo album, Swedish-Argentinian singer/songwriter José González returns with a brooding, existential third offering. The soft, inward-looking folk-rock of his first two records categorizes González alongside Nick Drake or Elliott Smith, and more contemporarily like Alexi Murdoch, early Iron & Wine, or pretty much everyone on the Garden State soundtrack. Armed with a strangely tuned classical guitar, experimental arrangements and minimal human-body-based percussion, he doesn’t stray too far from those influences on his third offering. Yet, Vestiges & Claws is a pensive record, one that tries to reconcile the meaning of our existence with the immediacy and presence of simply being here.
González’s greatest accomplishment on Vestiges & Claws is that his messages are as contemplatively captivating as the musical details he accentuates. Rhetorical sayings and metaphorical phrases fill each song on Vestiges & Claws. In “What Will,” from which González derives the album’s name, he wonders, “What will it be? Our legacy?/ Lazy acceptance of the norm / What will it be? If our will is free / Silent acceptance of the form,” before the chorus and title affirmation, “Vestiges and claws?/ Fight for a common cause.” A sense of prescience pervades the dense questioning, as counter-rhythms layer on top of each other in the six-and-a-half minute track. Later, he rejects karma and hell in “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell” with no explanation or reason; only alternating percussion snaps and hand claps punctuate these affirmations alongside González’s whispering voice and graceful guitar picking. In fact, González best emphasizes the message of Vestiges & Claws early on in the record, in just the second track. In the midst of “Let It Carry You,” González encourages listeners to “dissolve / into the foam / of things near / of things gone / “to remind our / restless souls, of the beauty / of being here at all.” Although Vestiges & Claws may wander close to guitar-based, folk-rock homogeny, González’s musings offer a cerebral reminder to enjoy figuring out what it all means.