It took a little over a decade for the Swedish trio Junip to deliver their first full-length recording, Fields. Singer/songwriter José González, keyboardist Tobias Winterkorn and drummer Elias Araya originally formed Junip in 1989; a self-released EP, Straight Lines, came out in 2000. However, while Araya spent nearly five years in Norway (in art school) and Winterkorn pursued a career in teaching, González, who was working on his PhD in chemistry, found his solo career suddenly taking off with the 2003 release (and the subsequent 2005 UK and US release) of his debut, Veneer.
The trio reformed in 2005 and released the EP Black Refuge the following year. After González finished promoting his excellent 2007 solo effort In Our Nature, Junip started to seriously write and record together. Those familiar with González' vocal delivery, which oddly combines Nick Drake and The Bee Gees (pre-Disco era) with his spare nylon-string guitar playing, will find that González has merged his British folk-based sound with the textures added by his bandmates. Winterkorn's 1970s-era keyboards and a Moog synthesizer and Araya's subtle drums and percussion (including a xylophone) add an extra dynamic that had been absent in González's solo releases. And as Fields demonstrates, the collaborative mixture is magnificent.
The opening cut, "In Every Direction," displays Junip's general aural landscape, combining the clarity of vocals and guitar (evidenced in González' solo efforts) with the varying colors offered by Winterkorn's keyboards, at times bordering on industrial or experimental, while simultaneously adding lighter touches and ‘70s prog-rock influences. Araya's drums are flattened, providing a heartbeat-like pulse that propels each song, adding brightness through various percussive instruments. With his experience as a solo artist, González understands how rhythm can be dictated from the guitar and, in a sense, he leads the band with his instrument.
The upbeat songs, such as the breezy "Always," the intricate "Rope & Summit" and the philosophical questioning of "Off Point," move so swiftly, you don't always notice the complex layers that exist. The album's closing song, "Tide," reveals more of the group's prog-rock influences. Winterkorn establishes a hypnotic electric piano riff reminiscent of early Brightback Morning Light, while later adding a Moog synthesizer part that recalls Emerson, Lake and Palmer. The swooning and dramatic nature of the music accompaniment provides a perfect compliment to González's poignant, double-edged lyrics ("...it will be time, time to return") referring to society's "time" for introspection.
The late arrival of Junip's debut is an unexpected gift. While wading through more than a decade, each musician has gone through a number of transitions personally and professionally that might have fragmented a younger band. As a result, Fields may be one of the most mature, sophisticated and seductive debut pop releases in ages.