[Review] Junip – Fields

By Sam.

Fields is out Septemeber 14th on Mute.

Stream the entire album {here} via NPR.

Junip is the project of singer/songwriter José González, keyboardist Tobias Winterkorn, and drummer Elias Araya. Childhood friends from Sweden, they’ve been playing together for a long time. Fields is their first full-length LP, coming after two EPs.

José González himself has released two well-received LPs under his solo name and while his distinctive voice and finger-style guitar are still forefront on this album, it’s definitely not a solo affair. The addition of Winterkorn and Araya serves as  a spice, accentuating the flavor of Gonzalez’s familiar music while giving it an edge that was starting to wear soft after his two solo albums.

Junip | In Every Direction {download} (rightclick>saveas…)

Album opener, “In Every Direction” begins with a couple strums on Gonzalez’s signature nylon/steel-string hybrid guitar. Anyone familiar with his sound will immediately recognize the familiar sound. After a few seconds, though, the band suddenly drops in, as if someone had just had their hand on the “mute” button accidentally. The song is significant for its introduction to the sound that becomes familiar throughout the album. After listening to the whole thing front-to-back, it becomes easy to forget the band, who fit perfectly into their grooves, but all you need to do is hear that first few seconds to remember just how different the sound of this album is from Gonzalez’s previous work.

Upon first listen, I thought Gonzalez’s unique, lilting voice, coupled with Araya’s discreet drumming give the album a bit of a rainy-day feel–a fact accentuated by the “Riders of the Storm” organ of “Rope and Summit.” This first listen was in a sterile office environment. My second listen was driving home from work, sun out and sky blue and Junip’s music took on a whole different light. Perfectly sunny and charming, it seemed to fit right into the early fall evening laid out before me. I consider musical plasticity to be a good thing and Fields isn’t weighted by a specific mood or feeling; it just fits in right where you want it to be.

On “Howl,” Gonzalez rides Araya’s drums, forgoing his fingerstyle guitar for little more than a percussive hit. The song particularly brings out his voice. It’s not exactly necessary to do that, as his voice has always been a standout feature of his music, but the style of the song also draws out the more rhythmic aspect of his singer-songwriter style that gave him an edge over the tropes of the genre. “Sweet and Bitter” draws out the same percussive style but Winterkorn’s keyboard and Gonzalez’s simple bassline give “Sweet and Bitter” what “Howl” lacked. It’s also important that when Gonzalez jumps off the track completely, you get a proper feel of just how much the band is adding to the sound. While upon immediate listen it might sound like Gonzalez could have done this album as a solo effort, it becomes clear that it wouldn’t have quite the same impact.

It’s clear from Fields that Gonzalez isn’t afraid of toying with his sound and on “To the Grain,” he gets the closest he’s ever been to normal production aesthetics. Winterkorn’s synth lines hold the place of a string arrangement. Low in the mix and particularly artificial–it’s a synth after all–it could have been a big leap for Gonzalez and one I don’t think he would have worn well.  Instead of going for the traditional singer-songwriter bombast that comes with string arrangements, “To the Grain” comes off as tastefully subtle.

The album closer, “Tide,” gives the best impression of how far the band’s impression on Gonzalez’s sound could have gone. It starts of in a traditional way for him, softly crooning with the ever-present fingerstyle, but it grows into a full band ham. Araya’s drums finally get aggressive, as if they’ve just been waiting for it for the past ten songs and Winterkorn’s synth takes over the entire texture of the sound.  By the last minute of the song, Gonzalez and his guitar are gone entirely as if to truly acknowledge that it is explicitly not a Gonzalez solo album.

In a way, it’s unfortunate that it’s impossible to separate Junip from Gonzalez’s solo work, and had Junip come before Gonzalez it’s likely that the latter’s work would have felt like it was needing something. Instead, Junip’s added something to Gonzalez’s music that no one ever knew it needed.

Recommended. (Highly if you like Gonzalez’s previous work.)

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