José González has crafted one of the most distinctive sounds in indie-folk music. His circular and rhythmic finger-picked guitar style and hushed, lilting vocal melodies have mesmerized and soothed listeners since his debut record in 2006. His latest album, Local Valley, is the next iteration of this classic intimate sound – a sonic serenity that provides solid foundation for the complex questions González is now asking.
Local Valley grapples with themes ranging from the metaphysical to the political. The album opens, fittingly, with “El Invento” (“The Invention”), a song that asks the elemental questions of being human. “Tell me why are we/ Tell me where are we now/ and tell me why”, González requests. González wrote this song with his young daughter – a fact which serves as a reminder that some questions remain relevant throughout every stage in life.
Many of the songs on the record offer morsels of advice on how to navigate the human experience, which González manages to convey without cliché or pretention. He achieves this, in part, through the song’s production; González’s hushed tones give the impression that he is singing to himself, rather than professing edicts to a crowd. In the hypnotically finger-picked “Horizons,” González offers a vision of how he strives to live: “To be at peace with and without / knowledge and doubt”.
While much of Local Valley muses on timeless questions, there are a few moments on the album that speak directly to our modern era. “Head On” is an energized, foot-pounding tune which reflects the experience of being a political citizen in the age of Twitter. The lyrics track the empty cycles of conflict, activation, and defeat that dominate social media activism. “Action / reaction / Stay with it / hang on / engage / disengage / Deal with it head on.” The title track, “Valle Local,” further criticizes this reality, focusing on in-grouping and our lost ability to engage with those outside our “local valleys,” or ideological cohorts.
Towards the album’s close, González leaves the political questions behind. In songs which feel no less poignant, he honors the domestic bliss in his life. “Lilla G,” a song for his daughter, is a love-filled celebration of a child. With few words besides “Lilla Gumman,” the song sounds like parental coos put to melody. “Honey Honey,” the last track, is a sweet and simple ode to a lover. This song makes it easy to imagine González and his family at their cabin in Sweden; we are left with a melody that sounds like summer evenings on a porch swing, sun and wind on linen.
Local Valley provides a peak into the profound reflection González has done in the six years since his last record. These songs are short, cleanly-packaged lessons, nursery rhymes, and mantras for navigating the experience of being alive in 2021. Through the simplicity and beauty of the songs, Local Valley reminds us to stay both critical and celebratory of our lives – and to enjoy good music all the while.