For the second half of the Micro-Reviews for February – the section in which I look at albums I didn’t have a chance to review in the month – I look at singer-songwriter José González’s third album and Neo-Soul duo THEESatisfaction’s second album.
José González – Vestiges and Claws
José González’ new project ‘Vestiges and Claws’ is his third solo album and his first one since 2007. In that gap the man has released two albums with his band Junip, and soundtracked the film ‘The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty’ – he’s been a busy boy. It’s funny then that after an eight year gap with two albums and a soundtrack in between that José González’ doesn’t really feel like he’s made much of a sonic leap from his last two solo albums.
González is still making extremely pretty indie folk music. You get the impression that the recording for this album was extremely intimate, the production sounds like it could have been recorded in isolation – Bon Iver style. With his extremely gentle voice, invigorating acoustic guitar melodies and the occasional extra bit of instrumentation thrown in like a flute or cello like the track ‘The Forest’ this is an album that fits into his catalogue perfectly. Hands claps and totally stripped back instrumentation runs throughout ‘Vestiges and Claws’ and even though it’s so delicate, the instruments are played so well that it’s hard not to be encapsulated by its fragility.
Lyrically González remains thoughtful as always and on this album he asks big existential questions. Where and how you place yourself in the world? Why do we feel the need to dominate other people? He’s not scared to tackle these big topics but one gets the impression that he’s slightly scared to dive too deep into them. The lyrics on this album are better when taken in fragments than when you listen to them in a song as a whole they as they feel slightly incoherent and disconnected, like they’re statements pulled from a hat.
This album isn’t perfect or anything all together new for José González. It is however, a beautiful and welcome return, he’s given us an album that fits perfectly into his back catalogue with only some slight sonic changes in that there’s more layering in his music. It doesn’t feel dated or like González isn’t trying, it sounds like the exact album he wanted to return on.
Best Tracks: The Forest, Let It Carry You
THEESatisfaction – EarthEE
THEESatisfaction have been making music for quite some time now, helping on albums with Shabazz Palaces and already releasing a fantastic debut album on Sub pop records, they’ve been making a name for themselves. This duo push neo-soul music into new exciting realms sounding spacey, experimental and alien.
It seems appropriate to describe them as alien on this album as they spend a lot of the time talking about Earth (as you may have guessed from the title). It’s all done in a very distant way – they observe our world and get upset about it. Some of these things can be done in quite an obvious way like when they talk about climate change like on the song ‘No GMO’. Some of it is more subtle like when they talk about the bastardisation of culture and music like Hip-Hop, Soul and Jazz to make it appropriate for the mainstream on the song ‘Blandland’. All the songs are thoughtful and extremely sincere and never in your face or preachy – even when talking about our climate, which is something that’s so hard for people to not preach about.
All of the instrumentals on this album are extremely abstract and ancient, sounding like some sort of future tribe. There’s a certain simpleness to their music with their chilling keyboards and drum rhythms that still manage to sound enchantingly fresh. Everything has the potential and the ingredients to make a fantastic album, especially considering its ambitious length of 44 minutes – 50% longer than their debut. It’s just a shame that on many of the spots on here it feel like THEESatisfaction fall short. In terms of actual songwriting on some of the cuts on here don’t feel as effortless or as fun as would have on their debut. Some of the tracks are either cut too short and feel unfinished, or go on for too long and stagnate. It feels like the attention hasn’t been given to the right places. There’s also the issue that the singing just isn’t as passionate as they should be considering the subject matters at hand.
That being said, this isn’t a bad album – it’s just not as good or as creative in terms of the song-writing as it should have been from these guys who have frequently impressed before. THEESatisfaction are still one of the most exciting acts in Neo-soul today with incredible ideas, it’s just this time the execution wasn’t as perfect.
Best Tracks: Blandland, EarthEE, Nature’s Candy