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Jose Gonzalez is a Swedish singer/songwriter whose music echoes Elliot Smith, the Red House Painters, and Nick Drake. The latter comparison has been made too much of in articles I've read - far more accurate are the first two comparisons.

Gonzalez's music has spaces in it, the kind of spaces the Red House Painters left in their music, though his music is faster and not as unremittingly downbeat as the Red House Painters. And he shares an intelligence with the best of Elliot Smith's material, although I'd rate the lyrics here on a higher plain than Smith's (no offense to Smith, who was a great artist in his own right).

There is a hypnotic aspect to the formula on display here, although formula is something of a dirty word ... the guitar work is impressive, consisting of understated yet very beautiful guitar patterns, rather than riffs. The lyrics aren't so much forcibly projected as slightly whispered, thus maintaining an air of mystery throughout the album.

Although there's a possible lack of variety across the album's eleven songs, that's overcome by a total running time of just over 30 minutes. In many ways, Gonzalez has created something that's so needed in today's society, something the total opposite of whatever guitar band is currently revisiting the 70's ... life is stressful enough without bands celebrating the disturbing problems in society, but Gonzalez's music provides a form of blissful escapism from anything that may be troubling.

Album opener "Slow Moves" contains a lovely guitar pattern, with delicate whispered vocals hiding its lyric, such that I still don't know what the song is about, but it makes me think of an autumn day with clear, fresh air, walking through tree-lined streets, with beautiful scenery.

Album closer "Broken Arrows" is something stunning, a solitary brass instrument arrives 8 seconds before the end, perfectly raising the track just that bit higher. And "Heartbeats" is a number people will be familar with from a Sony TV advert, and it reached the UK Top 10 as a result.

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Posted: Thursday 2nd May 2019 9:53 AM

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album review
Jose Gonzalez continues his ethos of less equals more, with another collection of simple stripped-back minimal folk songs.

Where Veneer reminded me of Nick Drake, here Gonzalez's tunings and strums take on a character of their own. Almost every song opens with a cyclical but memorable guitar refrain, all mantra-like, and the arrangements leave spaces that allow each track to breathe.

As with Veneer then, Gonzalez resists the temptation to embellish his material beyond the odd handclap here and there, a hand reaching across the frets, a mere breathe. Such sounds become as much part of the music as the vocals and strikingly hummable melodies.

The album reaches a pivotal moment however when Gonzalez covers Massive Attack's "Teardrop". Whilst it is far better than Newton Faulkner's clunky version, even Gonzalez can't quite manage to transfer the beauty of the original to his own take. Liz Fraser's vocal had been the real jewel in the crown, not the track's fairly linear musical structure. Gonzalez half-mumbles his way through the tune - it's not bad by any means, just not as fascinating or enjoyable as his own compositions.

"Down the Line" for example seems to be forever marching then lightly skipping downwards - it's one of those melodies married to mysterious haunting vocals that instantly seems familiar, like a soon-to-be life-long friend. The title-track takes simplicity and hypnotic-like powers to their logical conclusion - a tune full of repetition, resignation - I could listen to its guitar patterns all day long.

Along with his cover of "Teardrop", a rare mis-step arrives with the album closer. What initially seems a fascinating conglomeration of bubbling guitar notes ends with needless repetition during its extended outro. Still, no one's perfect, and such moments of eccentricity lend an extra human layer to the whole enterprise. It makes everything appear far less calculating than it otherwise might.

So, just how well do these melodies stick around? Well, there are more melodic strands on this album than in some artist's entire careers. And "How Low" is a nicely underwhelming opener, cleverly drawing the listener in. "Time to Send Someone Away" features simple handclaps to provide an upbeat musical setting for another lovely sequence of gentle vocal mumblings.

Whilst In Our Nature isn't quite the breathe of fresh air that Veneer was, it does consolidate Gonzalez's reputation. For although it all appears to be oh so easy, it almost certainly isn't. So whilst Gonzalez may not change much beyond this, and face diminishing returns as a result, his refusal to change for change's sake is something to celebrate in these modern times.

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Posted: Saturday 18th May 2019 11:39 AM

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