Thursday, April 25, 2013

Album Review: Junip - Junip

Album Rating: B
You’d be forgiven for not knowing that Swedish-Argentine solo artist Jose Gonzalez is in a band. After all, how many successful solo artists regress to forming a band rather than breaking from the confines of one? In this instance I coin the term regress lightly, as suggesting that Junip is merely an extension of Gonzalez’s solo work is to do Junip a great disservice. In the unnatural habitat of a band Gonzalez sheds his usually reserved skin, and he occasionally allows his trademark whisper to grow and even command sections of songs - a previously unheard of occurrence. Known extensively around Europe for his commercially successful covers of The Knife’s “Heartbeats” and Massive Attack’s “Teardrop,” Gonzalez has until this point been characterised by his delicate vocal work and soft, rhythmic acoustic guitar playing. Junip sees Gonzalez toy with those preconceptions.

Completing the line-up, Elias Araya (drums) and Tobias Winterkorn (organ, synth) provide the virtually unyielding bedrock which Gonzalez thrives upon. Throughout Junip, they combine to carefully craft countless textures and dimensions, dimensions which Gonzalez’s solo works sometimes lack. Most refreshingly of all however, they create them as equals. There is no ego-stroking on Junip, and Gonzalez most certainly does not assume the role of despot, and its a decision which ultimately allows the album to succeed. Opener “Line of Fire” immediately demonstrates why adding layers to a stripped down sound can be a positive thing, as a breezy organ sweeps the song away whilst light percussion provides an undeniable groove, ambling throughout before peaking in intensity and effectiveness at the climax. It turns out to be one of many examples which benefits from the fuller, richer sound which synthesisers and drums bring, as the hook-laden “Your Life Your Call” and the melancholic “Beginnings” authenticate.

Noticeably, most of the strongest cuts on offer here follow a familiar yet effective mould. The songs build timidly, slowly adding layers, whilst each chorus is delivered with a little more purpose and a little more urgency than the last. This foundation allows the final minute to accentuate the build up which preceded it, something which Gonzalez relishes here. Although his delivery barely surpasses a murmur on his solo work, the last chorus of “Line of Fire” sees an injection of energy which complements the upbeat and ethereal ending to the song. Similarly, “So Clear” follows the same formula and to equally convincing results, this time incorporating a bright synth line and an even greater sense of purpose towards its conclusion. Sure, similar song structures to these are deployed by many artists, but when its implemented by a man who is known for minimalism, it’s particularly rejuvenating to see the results of shelved convention, and he benefits from building on the presence and strength of his band-mates.

Unfortunately, not all of Junip reaches the same heights, and the trio which follow the album’s excellent midpoint “Villain” largely fail to deliver. “Walking Lightly” contains the same aesthetically pleasing textures as its peers, but its repetition and its length both work against it as it drifts without direction for almost six minutes, deviating little from its beginning and failing to evolve. “Head First” offers little which its peers haven’t already mastered and it simply feels underdeveloped, whilst "Baton" contains an awkward, low synth line which lasts for the duration and isn't rescued by the rest of the band. And it's this very trio which prevents Junip from ranking among the finest albums of 2013. Whilst the combination of depth and confidence allow the first half of Junip to shine, the album's string of weaker efforts paint the very picture of inconsistency - an all too worrying trend which is beginning to plague the projects of Jose Gonzalez.


1. Line of Fire
2. Suddenly
3. So Clear
4. Your Life Your Call
5. Villain
6. Walking Lightly
7. Head First
8. Baton
9. Beginnings
10. After All Is Said and Done

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