Fields, the third release and first full-length album from the Swedish trio Junip, both meets and defies expectations. One-third of this band is Jose Gonzalez, well-known for his densely constructed guitar-and-vocals work as a solo artist. Junip, which have been making music since the late 1990s, share certain obsessions with Gonzalez, but also head into a more atmospheric space, anchored there by Tobias Winterkorn’s organ and Moog work. The two EPs that preceded Fields — 2005’s Black Refuge and this year’s Rope and Summit — can be heard on an expanded edition of this album, and they serve as a solid introduction to evolution of the style heard here — there’s a loose yet haunting take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Ghost of Tom Joad” on Black Refuge, for one.
The dense, repetitive, ultimately satisfying “Cycling Trivialities” — which closed Gonzalez’s In Our Nature — is probably the closest, stylistically, that Gonzalez’s solo work had gotten to that of his band. That’s mirrored by Fields‘ “In Every Direction” and “It’s Alright,” both guitar-driven, and the closest this album gets to pop-song structures. Elsewhere on Fields, the music veers, becoming something that puts texture above all else: the taut, minimal percussion of “Howl,” which eventually evokes the tapping of a wineglass; the way strummed guitar yields to expansive, densely layered keyboards on “Rope & Summit.”
If you’re coming to Fields via your knowledge of Gonzalez, you’ll find much to like here. His voice serves as an anchor for much of the album, though his guitar often fits into a rhythmic role, with Winterkorn’s contributions largely handling the melodies of these 11 songs. Throughout Fields, there is a sense of experimentation — which isn’t to say that this is an album that revels in freeform improvisation, jolts of blistering noise, or well-intentioned skronk. It’s more that texture is explored above all else. Sometimes that takes the form of something gently melodic like “Don’t Let It Pass;” at other times, there’s something bolder and more percussive, such as “Sweet & Bitter,” which rides a steady, sample-ready drumbeat and adds flourishes for three and a half minutes.
Fields is a wide-ranging album, both musically and emotionally. As on his solo work, Gonzalez’s voice channels vulnerability exceptionally well, and in some cases the densely-structured songs the band creates trigger a sense of yearning. Elsewhere, that sense of layering and construction can meander a bit — “Howl”’s percussive evolution, mentioned earlier, is interesting, but I’d be hard-pressed to say exactly how (or even if) it works. But the chemistry between these three musicians is remarkably strong, and the genres that blend here, from folk to Krautrock, make for an interesting and (at its best) rewarding listen.