A beautiful listening experience
Philip Giouras
12:02 16th September 2021

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Very few artists have been so quietly influential on a whole genre as José González has been to that of folk singer-songwriters. His debut record Veneer, featuring breakout single ‘Heartbeats', was released to critical acclaim all the way back in 2003. He’s released noticeably few records since. Local Valley is only his fourth studio album, his first in six years, but what González discography lacks in quantity over the decades it certainly makes up for in quality. 

Recorded in his native home of Gothenburg, Sweden, the record is González’s first to incorporate all three languages he speaks (English, Swedish and Spanish). Opener 'El Invento’ is performed completely in Spanish, another first for González. It’s immediately apparent why he has decided to branch out and embrace other cultures; the light flickers off his guitar and his trademark delicately soft vocals feel warm and full of life when combined with the track's beautiful Spanish lyrics. It adds another stunning dimension to González’s well-established brand of emotive folk.

Dipping in and out of languages at a whim never feels jarring: it’s a tool that González uses sparingly, but when he does, it’s enchanting. ‘En Stund Pa Jorden’ is a fragile yet captivating ballad. The aforementioned ‘El Invento’ is perhaps an all-time career highlight and 'Tjomme' takes the record in a surprising direction where the percussive sounds of his tools, and the tracks overall rhythm and groove takes precedent over his vocals.

A lot has been spoken about regarding the sounds that have inspired González such as The Beatles and Silvio Rodriguez and Nick Drake, but less is said on the fact that quite clearly González has influenced his own generation’s worth of artists (Ben Howard and Justin Vernon’s early work comes to mind). With ‘Local Valley’ it almost feels like a full-circle moment, as those he’s inspired have clearly had a significant impact on his own work. At points, González’s voice deepens and echoes in a way reminiscent of Ben Howard, such as on the progressive and atmospheric ‘The Void'. On ‘Swing’ and ‘Head On’, with their traditional rhythms, and percussive melodies we feel as if we’re sitting listening to the worldly folk of Nick Mulvey.

González has always been a sensational lyricist, frequently utilising his power to stir up emotions deep within your soul, and once again ‘Local Valley’ finds his words touching on important subjects. ‘Head On’ specifically feels like a quiet protest, with lyrics targeting oligarchs, nepotism and the crumbling aspects of society around us whilst the aptly titled ‘Visions’ mixes the wonder of nature with a slight sense of foreboding. Its sounds of birds chirping in trees, echoing around the mysticism of González’s words: “we cannot know what is next, we are living together”. It’s genuinely quite hard to believe it was conceived at a time before the world was sent into lockdowns.  

Unsurprisingly, the record is incredibly cohesive; you flow through each track like you’re floating down a gentle stream. It’s a beautiful listening experience: tracks like ‘Lila G’ inspired by his own three-year-old daughter have a gentle nursery rhyme quality to them that leave you soothed, whilst the short yet suitably sweet ‘Honey, Honey’ brings the record to a charming close, almost tempting you to start the journey again.

With his albums being so few and far between, it would have been nice to see González branch out further, taking a few more risks. At times the record feels almost too safe: sounds merge beautifully but we’re still left feeling as if there’s one more step waiting to be taken. The Spanish and Swedish spoken tracks are such a delight, we’re left just wondering at the possibilities at Gonzalez’s fingertips if he was to embrace those sounds further. Hopefully, we won’t have too long to wait to find out. 

Local Valley arrives 17 September via City Slang/Mute Records.

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Photo: Press