José González – Veneer (2003)

I’ve been putting off the writing of this post for a couple of days now, and I wasn’t sure why I was doing that until a few minutes ago. José González’s music was one of the highlights of 2005 for me, which was the first time I heard it. It was, I think, the last year I remember where the future didn’t seem somehow oppressive, riddled with uncertainty and a nameless fear in the pit of my stomach, which I like to think is a normal occurrence at one point in everyone’s life, isn’t it? Well, not to paint such a bleak picture, I’ll just call it a phase. In any case, Veneer is forever entwined in my memory with my experience in the Czech Republic, during a summer school where I tried to learn as much as I could about video art and video editing during a two week period. It’s also where I got my acoustic guitar, to which I am still faithful today. José González’s playing style has become one of my main ideals in playing, ever since I first heard him, and the memory of that wonderful little town, more park than settlement, with its warmth, wine on the picnic blanket, random beatboxing teenagers coming over for jam sessions, absinth and subtle, twisted humor seemed almost too good to channel and delve upon. I guess that’s why it was so hard to get this started. But now that it’s rolling…

José González is an Argentinian-Swedish musician. His parents fled Argentina two years before having him, so he was raised in Sweden, which seems fitting, given the subtle and yet overpowering meld of Latin warmth and Scandinavian melancholy his music brings to the table. I say overpowering because his compositional style, the radiating poetry glowing around his songs are, to my perspective, irresistible, haunting, able to envelop me completely, every time I listen.

His influences are a bit unclear to me, since he cites a lot of musicians I am absolutely not familiar with, and yet I can’t help likening him to Nick Drake, in the sense that his guitar work seems slightly dominant, as if the vocals are mere wipers, half-remembered, over the intricate harmonic and rhythmic patterns he weaves with his fingers. In spite of this considerable playing proficiency, there’s no flashiness, no unnecessary, demonstrative dead weight, his songs are simple, vibrant, profoundly emotional, which is very difficult to do, I think, in every art. It takes a lot of work and a lot of talent to be able to express an emotion in a simple, condensed way, relying on a limited pattern, to fight the urge to explain and nuance and cram a desperately particular idea down your audience’s throat with the pretentiousness of universal appeal. I know, I’ve never really been able to censor myself enough, to distill my music or my writing in such a way, and that’s part of the reason I appreciate José González’s music so much. Not to mention the fact that he makes that nylon-string guitar sound like it was crafted by Apollo himself, simply by allowing the tone, the easy, resonant voice of the wood to shine, without succumbing to the studio overproduction trap.

Most of the songs on the album simply feature his guitar playing and his discreet, almost shy voice. The only addition to the very personal mood is the occasional percussion, which, again, reminds me of Nick Drake and his tremendous “Pink Moon” album, in terms of raw simplicity. The tracks remind me of a drive in the rain, after having experienced the symptoms of Stendhal syndrome for the first time, in a modern art museum in Prague. I wanted to keep that dizzying thrill going for as long as I could, and this album did the trick. It still does. I really hope you enjoy Veneer, and that you’ll excuse my tardiness in posting this. See you soon!

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