In general I think the lyrics are clearer this time,” reflects Sweden’s José González on his newest full-length effort, Vestiges & Claws. “And a lot less self-pitying.” Nearly eight years removed from his last solo offering, In Our Nature, González expands on that album’s focus on the innate, often unanswerable questions of the human existence and constructs a minimalistic narrative centered around civilization, humanism, solidarity and the universal strings that pull us all together. Now, having toured the globe multiple times with a rotating cast of close friends and talented musicians, the focus is less on the “I” and more on the “us.” Ironically, in order to achieve that level of consciousness, González had to seclude himself in the studio, acting as singer, songwriter, principal musician, and producer of the 10-track project.

That seclusion divulges volumes about the mind of González, but also the larger picture of humanity in the 21st Century. According to González, he chose to produce the album himself to preserve the more “muddled” elements of the instrumentals. In other words, he didn’t desire for some third-party creator to sterilize the darker, more off-kilter arrangements that course through the album (like the small hurdles that challenge our shared existence). In this new digital landscape, advice and collaborations are only a few clicks away. That also means that unwarranted criticisms arrive like a flood for artists and us normal folks. As González quips in the final track, “Open Book,” it takes lots of work and patience to expose oneself: “Pushed around, from shore to shore/I know there’s so much left to see/I know I have so much left to give/But the memories remain, yet the scars don’t feel the same.”

Perfection isn’t real, and this isolation preserves the charisma of human flaws. Gonzalez’s guitar stutters during “Let It Carry You,” while the wandering harmonies of “Leaf Off / The Cave,” flattened acoustics of “What Will” and the heightened tribal percussive patterns all mirror that notion of subtle imperfections. Like the great storytellers before him, González happily trades refined precision for an earnest connection.

Unlike his 2015 contemporaries, fellows like Damien Rice, Bon Iver, Glen Hansard and Iron & Wine, González’s sessions behind Vestiges & Claws explore far deeper (human) issues than lost love, interpersonal torment and visceral turmoil and self-doubt. Those are certainly issues we all face, and the topics that we as a species often fall back on when unable to really comprehend the grandeur of the world around us. For most of us, there is a dense fog of anxiety that rolls in when we picture ourselves planted on a little blue orb that is hurdling through the limitless of outer space. The textured acoustic melody underlining “What Will” coaxes a similar anxiety from the listener while the instrumental follow up, “Vissel” shares a similarly uneasy motif that is lined with a series of whistles seemingly arriving from the carefree days we all hope for.

Existence is also filled with those route-altering experiences, and that is what Vestiges & Claws lacks. There are minor emotional redirections across the album (the aforementioned “Let it Carry You” is more upbeat than the latter tracks) but there is never that moment that demands the listener to take notice. The lyricism is equally clear and dense, yet could easily be lost to the rear of even minor coffee house commotion. No tale should be so easily trumped.

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