Just before the last volume of “Scott Pilgrim” went on sale, many of us had lost hope that Bryan Lee O’Malley would give a worthy explanation of what those inter-dimensional trips were, and it turned out that the story ended, surprisingly, with a sweet metaphor on the increasing, great folly of modern thirty-somethings: the tendency towards hermetic introversion, to close ourselves off inside of our heads, behind containing walls of adamantium that make us impermeable to outside influence (emotional and intellectual). It must be that my reading of the end of the Pilgrim saga and the release of “Fields” have coincided in space and time, it’s true that you can’t help thinking about it when you find yourself faced with a personality that is as self-absorbed as that of José González: a creative genius who, in spite of the sweetness of his creations, is still a sort of gifted child who is going through his own particular genital phase. An artist shut up inside his own head, to which only a few close friends are allowed access, through doors with stars scratched into the threshold, so that they can be amazed by travelling through misty, multicoloured dimensions. But let’s not freak out, here: this is still José González’s head, not his pals’.
The problem is that when “Rope & Summit” (Mute, 2010) was released before the summer, many held out a hope in two directions: to start with, that EP meant that after nearly twelve years of existence, Junip’s debut LP must be near; and to finish, but to really finish (said as something positive), that those songs were pointing towards a warm revision of a novel misty kraut-folk that would warm the already-known, weak heart of José González. The first of these hopes has been fulfilled. The second, not so much. Let’s start at the beginning. For those who are surprised by the note that Junip is a band with twelve years of history under its belt, you should know that the group consisting of González, Elias Araya (percussion) and Tobias Winterkorn (keyboards) was officially baptised in 1998. Since then, it seems that they have lived in constant searching for a crack in the solo career of the singer of “ Heartbeats”. With “Fields”, it turns out that they have discovered that this crack ends up in a universe in which German musical mathematics intertwine with British pastoral folk with psychedelic touches.
This is a good point of departure. But again, we have to specify that it seems that the three Swedes are afraid to cut the umbilical cord that binds them to known reality and thus explore the possibilities of drifting in this new universe. They stay too close to the crack, too close to that wall of cement that is the career (and the sound) of the one who put out the already legendary “In Our Nature” (Mute, 2007). When “Fields” flies the highest is when Winterkon’s space keyboards expand stealthily and tidily over González’s musical personality, while Araya’s percussion acts as a containing network, limiting the physical quality of the songs. This is how powerfully hypnotic songs like the beautiful “ To the Grain” sound (with a xylophone that sounds like childhood and amniotic liquid), the highly-stylised “ Rope & Summit” (which, in the end, is the piece that best synthesises the kraut style manual), the sweet “ It’s Alright” (with a beat that resounds like a radar in the distance), or the expansive “ Without You” and its robotic, phantasmagorical synthesisers. The obsessive “ Always” is worth mentioning separately—it slips into “Fields” as one of its main acts, but it could well be a fascinating, on-target discard from “Veneer” (Peacefrog, 2005).
None of the above takes away from the fact that in the end, listening to Junip’s debut LP suffers from the ill of vagueness: the songs run their course too placidly, without surprises in sight to mark high points in a path that is excessively linear. Everything is in its place, everything is correct. But with such good material to start with, the three Swedes could have shown themselves to be more adventurous, and even ambitious, reaching excellence through authenticity. They already sing it in “ Always”: “Turn a deaf ear, no matter what they might say.” That is what “Fields” is about: not listening and staying closed up inside of José González’s head. Inviting others to come in and see, but always looking from close to the door. When the best thing that these three could do would be to say to hell with this good-vibe cleanliness and bite through the umbilical cord. Even if it left them with their mouths full of blood.
Raül De Tena