Junip’s debut album, 2010’s Fields, was perfectly illustrative of what singer/songwriter Jose Gonzalez does so well, a fusion of perfectly plucked classical guitar that weaves in and out of synthesizers and driving drum beats. The sound is indicative of the cloth it’s cut from; Gonzalez is an Argentinian who was raised primarily in Sweden, and (normally) he’s able to perform a balancing act between Latin acoustic music and the pop sensibilities of fellow Swedes First Aid Kit and Lykke Li. Fields never wavered in its ability to keep the listener engaged, alternating from near cacophony to beautifully polished simplicity and, because of nearly constant, perfectly produced beats, never once allowed the listener to turn away. Even the two disc special edition of the record, which added the 11 songs from the Rope and Summit and Black Refuge EPs, never wavered, ending with an angry solo version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad.” As we noted in our review of Fields, the album “creates an energy that seems to almost swirl out of the speakers, covering you with a blanket of sound.”
Junip’s self-titled follow up, unfortunately, doesn’t come close to creating that same energy. More often than not, this feels like an album of tracks that weren’t interesting enough to make it on Fields, and more often than that, it’s all too easy to tune out the music and start thinking about what you’re having for dinner, or what you’ve got going on this weekend. Quite the opposite of engaging, this is music that is best used for falling asleep on a plane.
It starts out well enough; “Line of Fire” recaptures that acoustic-meets-electronica sound as it perpetually builds to a towering crescendo. But a dull bridge and a two-minutes-too-long running time eventually derail the song, and become the first signs that something isn’t working. The third track, “So Clear,” is also a melodic wall of sound but doesn’t differentiate itself enough from “Line of Fire” to feel interesting. The soft “Suddenly” separates the two songs, but is forgotten almost the second it ends. “Head First” and “Baton” are minimalist pieces of electronica that feel like they were never finished. The bones are there, but unlike the heavily orchestrated “Line of Fire” and “So Clear,” Gonzalez just stopped adding layers, leaving only a monotonous shell of a song. (“Head First” also – unintentionally but distractingly – borrows the riff from Lyle Lovett’s “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind.”) “Walking Lightly” has a bouncy beat and some fine arpeggio keyboard work but nearly six minutes of little change wears out its welcome.
There are high points though. The relentless “Your Life Your Call” would be one of the better tracks on Fields. And drummer Elias Araya makes his presence felt on the decidedly Black Keys-esque “Villain,” the but just as the song really gets going, it’s over, one of the only songs on the record actually hampered by its short running time and. The rest, however, suffer the opposite problem, with the worst offender being the album’s closer, “After All Is Said And Done.” The track meanders lazily as Gonzalez repeats the title while plucking three or four notes and synth player Tobias Winterkorn noodles haphazardly,leading to, well, nowhere.
Junip is not difficult to listen to, but Gonzalez has set a much higher bar for himself over the years. In addition to Junip, his solo work as well as collaborations with bands like Zero 7 have proven what a magnificent songwriter he can be. To have this be the next step is disappointing to say the least. It’s a shame Junip fans had to wait three years for new music, an even bigger shame that this is what they got.