It was almost six years between Junip’s first EP (2005’s Black Refuge) and their first full-length, Fields. Lounging in Gothenburg, Sweden after wrapping a European tour to promote their self-titled second album, singer-guitarist José González talked about the recording process and how they built off Fields.
“We never said we didn’t exist,” he says with a laugh. “We just didn’t play that much.” In the interim González remained busy with solo albums, appearing on compilations and extensively touring.
Fields, 2010’s reunion record, is an album of acoustic songs lined with psychedelic wallpaper. It has some strong tracks, but ultimately sounds timid and unsure of itself.
For the band’s second LP, Junip, they looked to expand on arrangements and instrumentation. “We brought in a new producer, got a new space, and we had the first album, too, so we knew how to write and record better . . . The more you write, the easier it gets,” González says.
The sounds on Junip are lush and pastoral, González’s smooth and approachable voice being the invitation to enter the landscape, yet the instruments entice and the listener with increasingly complex and expanding arrangements. Where Fields sometimes feels restrained or unsure of itself, Junip feels expansive and certain. “We wanted it to be bigger and better,” he says.
For González, music comes first in terms of how the song’s lyrical themes present themselves. He said it was more about “finding an expression that fits the music.”
Two tracks stand out regarding expression. “Walking Lightly,” showcases layered acoustic guitars that drift and swirl around a droning organ. “I was walking in spring and everything was very beautiful and I felt very light. I was walking lightly. The song is delicate and airy, like willows swaying in a spring breeze. He sings, “Alone walking lightly/ If it’s wrong it’s last/ Could be gone so fast/ Keep walking lightly.”
The album’s next song, “Head First,” is a stark juxtaposition. He sings, “And I wonder/ Should I jump into this head first of feet first?” over sparse guitars and soaring, trippy synths that break and dive beneath crisp wood-block percussion.
“They conflict each other,” he says, speaking of those songs (which appear one after the other). “It’s about diving headfirst into things.”
Junip bridges the gap between those two sensibilities—walking lightly and diving headfirst. The songs are earnest and moody, driving and catatonic, yet everything seems perfectly and deliberately placed for effect.
Focusing heavily on Krautrock-derived rhythms that revolve and hypnotize, Junip layer instruments thinly and seductively, creating a tapestry of sounds that richly interweave. Crescendos never raise or drop but seem to smooth themselves. Instruments build and encroach on the listener—like the slow-climbing vibrations of a psychedelic drug.
“We wanted it to be a very eclectic album,” González said coyly. “It sounds very different for us . . . but it may be similar to some people because of my voice and the overall sound of the recordings.”
It’s a strange expansive restraint; that is, what worked on Fields works even better here. The wallpaper becomes a drapery. On Fields, the listener could only look upon the wallpaper; on Junip, the listener enters the wallpaper. All divergences eventually converge.
Ultimately it is in the nuances and subtleties the band seems keen on exploring on Junip, reaching out to the horizon of a flat world, expanding every song almost to the tipping point before pulling it back in. It’s an album more like an unfolding origami flower than a delicate house of cards.
Junip perform at the Rio Theatre on June 4.
By Lliam EasterbrookBC, British Columbia