Junip are a three-piece consisting of singer-songwriter José González, drummer Elias Araya and keyboardist Tobia Winterkorn. Gonzalez is by far the best-known of the three: after his cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats soundtracked the tumbling of colourful spheres in a 2005 Sony advert, sales of his solo albums received a big fillip.
Given the asymmetrical nature of the band members’ fame levels, it would be easy to see Junip as González’s Tin Machine-style hobby band. Yet Junip’s existence predates González’s solo career: the band released their debut single in 2000, five years before González issued his debut solo album. And, for now, Junip appears to be González’s priority: this self-titled album is the second long-player from the outfit since his last solo album came out in 2007.
González’s vocals are present on every one of Junip’s 10 tracks but they’re by no means the focal point. One’s ears are drawn constantly towards the wealth of sonic details that surround González’s voice, and that’s testament to the strength of the band’s work. Araya, Winterkorn and González are sensitive, fluid players; their music blends elements of prog, psychedelia, jazz and krautrock without ever sounding like it’s a work of dilettantism.
Opener Line Of Fire encapsulates Junip’s aesthetic perfectly. A three-note keyboard line, cyclical strumming and a scuttling drumbeat intermesh seamlessly while the song builds gradually to a dramatic climax with the smoothness of jet plane taking off.
Line Of Fire’s fiery spirit made it an obvious choice of first single, but this is an album of consistent quality. The ascending keyboards on the chorus of So Clear bring to mind ’70s prog rock at its most uncool (think Yes) but they land just on the right side of the cheesy/affecting divide. The excellent Baton combines an undulating bassline with tabla rolls and disquieting whistling, proving that Junip can be just as effective in minimalist mode.
The more laidback moments on Junip are just as rewarding. Suddenly exudes the same type of blissful serenity as Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross. Elsewhere, Beginnings represents Junip at its most freeform; the track’s loose jazziness brings to mind John Martyn’s Solid Air. And just when the album’s smoothness threatens to overwhelm, Villain – a brief track combining a deliberately graceless bass riff and primitive drumming – provides a pleasingly jagged contrast to the surrounding round edges.
While Junip is hard to fault from a musical perspective, the lyrics have a tendency to engage in stoner philosophising. Lines such as “Wherever you look, it’s always the same / So many people playing the same game” and “Can’t remember the last time we took the time to see a sunset” carry an off-putting whiff of joss sticks and stale marijuana smoke.
Junip isn’t a flashy album. On first listen it sounds undemonstrative to a fault. But this is an album full of small but powerful gestures. The key change at around the four-minute mark of Walking Lightly is a case in point: with the minimum of fuss, a good song is transformed into a special song. Lovely stuff.