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José González ~ Local Valley

“Many songs have a crystal-clear, secular humanist agenda: anti-dogma, pro-reason.”

These are the words of José González when reflecting on his latest album. He explains that he is heavily influenced by modern philosophy, immersing himself in the words of contemporary minds such as David Christian’s Origin Story, Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists, Antonio Damasio’s The Strange Order of Things, and even Åsa Wikforss’ Alternative Facts: On Knowledge and Its Enemies.

Much of Local Valley uses the stripped-back setup that fans of González will feel very familiar with. A dance of rhythmic, fingerpicked guitar and steadying vocals create a comforting soundworld ~ one that might seem deceptively “chilled” to a passive audience. In actuality, his ability to dive into the depths of the mind’s wanderings and tackle global issues with thought and insight is very striking and deeply moving to a close listener.

While the message is clear that the basis of his thinking, worldview and lyrical content stems from humanism, I can’t help but feel that Local Valley is very spiritual in sentiment and effect. Beautifully straddling the line between divinity and the cold, blunt knife of reason, the ideas put forward in this album probe the corners of human consciousness while ultimately being an expression of love, peace and unity.

“We are here together / we are here together / we are here together.” The repeated phrase in Visions becomes a mantra, the melody settling into a chant of unity, multi-tracked vocals creating an effect as though a group is singing the line. It couldn’t be more fitting to soothe the hearts of the world through the pandemic.

His vocals often slip into a repeated melody; a simple line stated over and over as though in prayer. Horizons ~ the song that González deems to be his most accomplished to date ~ gently repeats the line, “To be at peace / with and without”. The Void contains close vocal harmonies which feel reminiscent of a Gregorian chant.

These slower, more mediative songs are contrasted by joyous clapping, stomped rhythms and colourful melodies in Head On, the use of hand/body percussion reinforcing a sense of ritual and community. Valle Local, Swing and Tjomme also display the impressive guitar capabilities which struck the attention of so many of his fans from when he first released Veneer, in an uplifting mix between fingerpicking and strumming. Unlike his previous works, he also uses his iPad’s DM1 drum machine app on some of the songs in this album, which replaces the congas and bongos from previous albums.

Lilla G and Swing also clearly express some of González’ Southern American heritage, his musical lineage shining through in his use of percussion-heavy Latin rhythms and gently swung off-beat melodies. Local Valley is the first of his albums to utilise all three of the languages he speaks; English, Spanish and Swedish ~ a personal nod towards his life and the cultures he’s been a part of.

The album reaches its completion with the song Honey Honey. Written for his partner Hannele Fernström (who also created the album artwork) in a beautiful, peaceful and understated celebration of love in all its intimacy. An incredibly soothing song, a delicate lullaby to send its audience into a dream state. The perfect way to close an album, leaving artist and listeners alike in a state of surrender.

Published by Folk Radio UK, 16th September 2021


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