Few people have managed to become quite so celebrated worldwide quite as quietly as José González has. The singer, songwriter, and guitarist has released his long-awaited fourth album ‘Local Valley’ after a six year wait, serving as a reminder that you don’t have to be loud to be heard. While he’s still best known for his cover of The Knife’s ‘Heartbeats’, the indie-folk star has kept his distinctive sound and provides hopefulness with his new project.
Described as a “mixture of classic folk-singer songwriting and songs with influences from Latin America and Africa,” ‘Local Valley’ is González’s first to incorporate all three languages he speaks (English, Swedish, and Spanish). It doesn’t deviate from the blueprint González has created and followed since his debut single ‘Crosses’ back in 2003, and cheerfully acknowledges his previous albums through sound and spirit. ‘Local Valley’ calmly exhibits his singular ability to communicate with such modesty and power and is the perfect autumn season soundtrack.
Beginning with the sun-dappled ‘El Invento’, the first song he’s recorded in the native tongue of his Argentinian heritage, the album’s opening track is a soft, soothing opener. It is accompanied by delicate guitar fingerpicking and has almost controversial lyrics, with the chorus translating to “Tell me why is it so / Tell me where are you headed / Tell me where are we from...” Along the way, it engages his signature sound and for the first time, the introduction of a drum machine on a few songs, further widening his musical spectrum. Even though the beautiful fingerpicking shines on this song in particular, it is a recurring element throughout the album and showcases one of González’s many talents.
On ‘Visions’, González’s mellow and melodic tone are at its best here. He sounds hopeful, singing “we can’t know for sure what’s next / But that we’re in this together…” despite being “enslaved by the forces of nature.” The chirping birds mix with his effortless strumming, creating an atmosphere of an early, fresh spring morning.
Singing about facing obstacles in ‘Head On’, González doesn’t shy away from speaking on what he strongly believes in. The catchy melody and overdriving acoustic guitar as he calls out “rent seekers” and “value extractors” like he belongs on Wall Street express González’s strong philosophical opinion in which he is no stranger to voicing. His deep, logical and well-educated thinking is evidently shown in this track and that devouring books during the pandemic, such as Mariana Mazzucato ones he’s spoken a lot about, have further influenced him by incorporating what he read and learnt into his creative endeavours.
Dipping in and out of his native languages at a whim, ‘En Stund Pa Jorden’ is a fragile yet captivating ballad and ‘Tjomme’ takes the record in a surprising direction. It comes with a two-stepping dancehall beat which feels like he’s really embracing his parents’ Argentinian roots while grounding it with his pastoral indie-folk sound.
Perhaps it’s González’ ability to fluidly switch between languages, or maybe it’s his distinctive sound creating a calming, dreamlike atmosphere throughout the album, but ‘Local Valley’ never seems like an exercise of navel-gazing. The Spanish and Swedish spoken tracks are such a delight and make it easy to immerse yourself in his sound and zone out from the rest of the world. González hasn’t changed much since his 2003 debut ‘Veneer’ but his fans won’t be disappointed by his new project and will surely be glad to have new songs after waiting six years.
Words: Shannon Garner
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