After releasing “Stay Alive,” for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Soundtrack back in 2013, José González has focused his attention on the afterlife and that gray area of the unknown. For an atheist, that area is overwhelmingly convoluted and tough ground to walk upon. González’s latest single off his third upcoming album, Vestiges & Claws, finds him exploring those themes more directly and with great trepidation. “Leaf Off / The Cave” works in a multitude of ways. It explores death as not something to fear, but something to embrace, since it is unavoidable. However, it also fixates itself into death being more of a mindset and less of an end destination.
“Every Age,” the first single off Vestiges & Claws set it’s goal on living your life to the fullest and being fearless, “Leaf Off / The Cave” grounds itself in the unfamiliar. The song opens with an uplifting sliding guitar, crisp handclaps, and tender percussion. It immediately sets the airy, freeform and spiritual tone of the song. The first and very repetitive lyric, “let the light lead you out,” lends itself to two ideologies. The obvious is that death isn’t a dark hole, but a light – a glowing sphere of energy that you shouldn’t wither from, but that you should welcome. The other meaning could have to do with death being a mindset in all of our current lives. We’ve all felt “dead” at certain moments, whether it’s from exhaustion, depression, or simply feeling down. González explores this area of dread and tells us to follow the light, the happiness, and the joy in our lives to keep us alive and well.
“Leaf Off / The Cave” moves like the last bit of smoke leaving a recently putout candle. It’s airy, spacious, slow, and doesn’t necessarily seem to have a set point of a beginning or an end. It’s your typical, indie film opener, soft-spoken José González stripped down to his essence. Near the end of the song, González sings, “We flourish and die / what it means to be alive.” These words encapsulate where he is mentally, spiritually, and musically. Death is a process of life and we can’t have one without the other. González is trying with great ease to look at death in the same light in which we look at birth or life. To flourish is to know that you will also wither, to rise is to know that you will also fall, and González is acknowledging the very real way that life functions.