Soothing tunes of “Vestiges & Claws” ultimately lack memorable qualities

Ellen Kan and Anjali Khanna

There’s no artist quite like José González.

Born in Sweden, but of Argentine descent, the singer-songwriter produces music that is both eclectic and worldly. By penning profound lyrics that encompass nearly every facet of human emotion, González has dared to stray away from the common themes of today’s most popular music.

From his earlier works, such as his 2006 album “Veneer,” to more recent pieces like cover “This is How We Walk on the Moon” and “Stay Alive,” González has never been a conformist when it comes to instrumentals. In fact, he has never really has made an attempt to conform in any aspect of his musical style. This has never been clearer than in the artist’s latest album, “Vestiges & Claws.”

While González’s musical style is unique from that of other musicians, his songs all seem a little too similar. “Vestiges and Claws,” is so quintessentially representative of the typical “José González” style that none of the songs are as distinguishable as those of his previous work for the film “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

As a collection of beautifully soothing tracks, the songs on “Vestiges & Claws” fit together seamlessly. However, though lovely, none of the tunes are able to resonate in the long term  when singled out on their own.

“Vissel” stands out as the only track without any vocals. The rhythmic strumming, accompanied by soft whistling, creates an enjoyable melody, but it lacks qualities that make the song memorable. “Vissel” ultimately remains rather indistinguishable from the other tracks on “Vestiges & Claws.”

Other songs from the album add to González’s minimalist and tenuous vibe. There’s the opening track, “With the Ink of a Ghost,” which gives off the same calming yet slightly eerie feeling as “Stories We Build, Stories We Tell.” “The Forest” goes for a warmer and fuller sound, but it still fails to stand on its own.

While most tracks on the album lean towards this mysterious tone, González’s “Leaf Off / The Cave” wanders towards a lighter, more uplifting feel. Repetition and catchy acoustics drive the song forward, and unlike in “Vissel,” lyrics dominate the audio rather than González’s instruments.

The latest album is a 180-degree twist from González’s last work from his last hit song, “Stay Alive,” which garnered nearly four million views on Youtube and 18.5 million listens on Spotify. The majority of the trackson “Vestiges & Claws” did not reach this level of popularity, but this to be expected of songs that target different audiences.

González engineered “Stay Alive” for the public’s ears, with relatable – and unusually audible – lyrics that are just catchy enough to stay with the listener. The songs on this new album, like “Let it Carry You” and “Afterglow,” are more rhythm-based. The melodies on “Vestiges & Claws” are softly placed and easy on the ear, but the lyrics blend together across the album.

It almost seems as if González created “Vestiges and Claws” for himself entirely, with lyrics that mean something deeper to the artist only. Almost like abstract art, the songs on the album are beautiful on a superficial level, but mysterious in the obscurity of their true meanings.

The one standout track of the album is “Open Book,” which features a warmer, more inviting tone. This is achieved simply through emphasized lyrics and a scaled-back rhythmic scene that’s somewhat evocative of the style of English singer-songwriter Passenger. “Open Book” is almost González’s “tell-all” to his listeners at the end of the album, with a piece they can actually understand and run with a little bit more. Paralleled to “Stay Alive,” “Open Book” also seems to target a larger listener base.

As his first solo album in seven years, “Vestiges & Claws” is a ultimately an exceptional collection of songs that allow González’s one-of-a-kind musicality to shine. However, we lament González’s shift towards a more narrowly defined audience, which limits the general public’s appreciation for his talents.

González may never break into the mainstream, but at least we know his comforting tunes will never disappoint.