The new eponymous LP by Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez’ three-piece rock band Junip is their second full-length release since forming 15 years ago, and also their second since 2010. You read that correctly; after Gonzalez happened upon sudden success as a solo artist in the mid-aughts, Junip was cornered into taking an extended break, managing to squeeze out just two EPs before their 2010 formal debut Fields. Their tedious progress finally comes to a head on Junip, a frequently gorgeous exercise in teamwork and restraint: In the album’s strongest moments, Junip treat their songs like a fragile house of cards, not to be built too fast or aggressively lest one over-eager misstep ruin the whole thing.
As musicians, Gonzalez, Elias Araya, and Tobias Winkerton have a limitless arsenal, but Junip mainly flexes three things throughout: Krautrock-derived rhythms, pitch-perfect harmonies, and Gonzalez’ mumble, never at odds with the sonic feel of any moment.
“I let the music set the tone of the lyrics,” Gonzalez said about writing the album in a recent Pitchfork interview, adding that his lyrics are “not always personal.” That works, because as a singer, Gonzalez offers much more as lead instrument here than as lyricist. On “Your Life Your Call”, he directs a rousing, bass- and handclap-driven call to arms, even when chanting a hook that reads more or less like a failed draft of “Get Up Stand Up” (“It’s your life, it’s your call / Stand up or enjoy your fall / Pull yourself together and draw the line”). Later, on centerpiece “Walking Lightly”, his voice briefly mimics a didgeridoo as the song maintains one groove for six minutes, not so much intensifying along the way as expanding, continuously growing wider and brighter as its details patiently accumulate.
Junip is a band that excels by focusing on one tone at a time, injecting each with a level of attention worthy of a mural. Gonzalez is too zoned-in here to let his lyrics distract, but more often than not, Junip can essentially be heard as an instrumental pop album with the music feeding and building off itself. After seeing parts of three separate decades together, Junip have finally worked up to what they can be at their best.
Essential tracks: “Your Life Your Call”, “Walking Lightly”, and “After All Is Said and Done”