“Poke the body with a stick, roll it down.”
Living in the shadow of his solo work (who then again was living in the shadow of his popular covers of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ and The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’), José González and his indie folk band Junip have come back after their 2010 release, Fields, to release their sophomore self-titled album. While Fields played it relatively safe within González’s spectrum of easy-going folk songs, it was still great for what it was, despite growing a little stale on repeated listens, not quite living up to his 2003 solo debut Veneer. What made his original work so powerful was the relaxed nature of his graceful, yet simple guitar work with dark undertones that made the album have a certain aesthetic about it that evoked emotion, his sullen and unique voice leaving an impact with its shadowy quality. Slowly giving up these aspects of his music ever since Junip’s original EP Black Refuge and with his sophomore record In Our Nature, González has seemed to have found a niche that strays away from his humble beginnings and has slowly defined his career as a monotonous repetition of songs that all sound the same. A decade later, all the more with Junip do we begin to see that he will never again emulate the brilliance of his debut.
It’s not that Junip is a bad album, it is, by all means, good, it’s just that it fails to do anything different, and what it does do, Junip–and González–have done better before. Whereas Fields still had a distinct charm to it, the songs were easy to digest and they featured some wonderful melodies and folk stylings, Junip tries to relive it all once again, but sacrifices any memorability for tiring repetition and it all lumps itself together into what feels like a sloppy effort of attempted greatness. The man himself sounds the same as he ever did, yet it just doesn’t feel like there’s any spark left. The songs barely progress and tend to meander on for far longer than they should ever have to, and the album could easily be more enjoyable if each song were perhaps a minute or two shorter. The band tends to try and build each song to boom at a climax, but there’s little to no energy there, and from the admittedly great opener ‘Line of Fire’, everything seems to go downhill.
While most of the album seems to follow a boring formula of being homogenous, taking all its cues from Fields, trying to be larger than life with tawdry strings and electronics at points when it just sounds almost pitiable, the album’s halfway point ‘Villain’ is the highlight; standing at less than two minutes, the song doesn’t last long enough to get boring and its groovy drumming and fuzzy production makes it far and away the best song on the album. It still manages to hold some of the signature González feel from his early days. And for what it is, Junip is an enjoyable album, it just appears as though González and co. are digging themselves a hole and they need to get out, all the more is his work sounding “poppier” and losing a defining edge he used to have in stride. And despite the album’s deceiving cover, this album lacks any of the shady, arty undertones of his classic work. Junip is ultimately González’s weakest effort yet and it seems the man and his band heading down a path that they won’t be getting off any time soon.