If you were expecting a new direction from Jose Gonzalez when he reformed his band Junip, then you’re not only in for a disappointment, but you have lofty expectations. Gonzalez’s sound alone is richly resonant and intimate, and in Junip with drummer Elias Araya and organist Tobias Winterkorn, the trio doesn’t set out to blow up that sound, but rather to expand and build upon it in subtly new ways. The results on their first full-length, Fields, reinforce yet again the depth and reach of Gonzalez’s sound while setting it in a new, rumbling context.
If there’s one thing this record brings forth, it is the propulsive nature of Gonzalez’s nylon-stringed guitar. Alone it seethes and growls, but coupled with drums and haunting organ, Gonzalez’s complex phrasings push forward at every moment, which keeps Fields—an ultimately subdued, hushed record—from ever feeling bogged down or faint. Much of the credit for this goes to Elias Araya, whose drumming here uses Spartan elements to intricate effect. You’ll never hear him crash cymbals to announce his presence, but on tracks like “In Every Direction” or the slightly funky “Sweet & Bitter”, Araya churns along on a dusty groove. On the more direct number “Howl”, he clacks and clangs along with the song, leaving any heft up to the interplay of Gonzalez’s guitar and Winterkorn’s keys, while on “Off Point” he sets a spare but pulsing beat, giving the track a sort of Krautrock insistence.
For his part, Winterkorn, is here to fill in the small bit of space left in the wake of Gonzalez’s strings, and he matches the guitarist blow for atmospheric blow. Closer “Tide”, which starts quietly with Gonzalez virtually alone, works into a cascading finale that finds the Moog swelling and buzzing along with the guitar in a surprising wall of noise after such a controlled record. The best moments of the record work this way—Araya sets the sturdy pace, and Winterkorn either lengthens Gonzalez’s considerable shadow with his droning notes, or cuts it with small swaths of light.
Make no mistake, though, this is still Jose Gonzalez’s record, and this is another intimate and affecting set of songs from the accomplished songwriter. The titular fields, he lets us know on “Without You”, are covered in ice and about to be left behind. Each song on Junip contains this mix of loss and possibility. His blurred playing casts, as always, a thin cloud cover over the record, the kind where you can see the sun behind it, even feel its warmth, and Fields can vacillate from the sweet melancholy of album standout “Don’t Let It Pass” to the charging hope of “Rope & Summit”. Lyrically, Gonzalez may be understated—there’s not likely to be too many lines here that inspire a new Facebook status—but he keeps his musical world moving and creates a larger, more lasting effect as a result.
Sometimes, on Fields, there’s a bit too much going on, though, and that effect suffers for it. Songs like “Always” and “Off Point” start strong, but as they move the instruments collide with each other rather than meshing. As a result, when the song starts to expand, it results in more confusion that atmosphere. These are forgivable and small misfires since they are the most ambitious pieces of the record, and the grandiose “Tide” show they’re capable of that size, but they’re just not nailing it every time here. So, while all the way through these three musicians show off an impressive chemistry, not each song holds up under all that moody heft.
This is a Junip record, but it’s hard not to see Fields as another solid entry in Jose Gonzalez’s discography, and a fitting next step in a lot of ways. It may not be the revelation Veneer was, or the undersold greatness of In Our Nature, but this record is a reminder of the strength and versatility of his sound. Not only that, but the guy sure knows who to assemble around him to bring out the strengths in that sound. They make an awfully big sound for a trio; here’s hoping it’s not the last new sound they make.