Singer-songwriter and guitarist, José González, creates a hypnotic landscape full of acoustic instruments on Vestiges & Claws. His third full studio album marks an expert instrumentalist, gentle singer and musical poet. But beware, the somnolent nature of the entire record blurs into one sleep-inducing, albeit quality, mass of sound.
The standout ingredient on this album is the rich toned classical guitar and rhythm, sans full drum kit. The nylon stringed classical guitar make for a lusher sound — full bodied low register notes and a clean, pure timbre. Complex ostinatos drive tunes forward and showcase superb guitar mastery. The addition of woodblocks on “Let it Carry You”, shaker on “Afterglow” or hand clapping on “Stories We Tell” add unconventional yet welcome rhythmic support.
While all of these musical elements are of the highest caliber, they do not work track after track. “Leap off/the Cave” has one of the jammiest accompaniments on the album, featuring clapping, rhythm sticks and characteristic rhythmic guitar. González’s light voice is doubled from the moment he enters. This groove is great for a bit, but it’s disconcerting to realize what felt like an hour was only two minutes of the same song and there still half the track to go.
There are differences between songs, such as the different rhythm instruments, or a wind-blown instrument of “The Forest”, but they are so subtle and the nature of each track so trance-like, it just doesn’t make enough of a difference. González’s vocal quality is not one of a powerhouse, but a gentler, understated voice, well-matched for acoustic instruments. Using often sparse vocal lines that only present a few words at a time within a small pitch range only adds to the languor.
While clearly demonstrating musical mastery, particularly in the instrumental work, José González’s Vestiges & Claws unfortunately also has created an acoustic hypnosis so strong, it’s best not to listen to the whole album in one sitting, ever.