“Jose’s beautifully delicate touch, his way of allowing emotions to hover and hang in the air like a magical mist, remains true” 4/5 Daily Mirror
“What a beautiful, powerful, haunting album” 4/5 The Sunday Times
“If a CD can be a comfort blanket as the mist descends, then In Our Nature is it. Jose sent the moneymen packing, and is still cradling that flame” Esquire
“The perfect proof that less is ultimately more” 4/5 The Sun
“Gloriously understated songs with a haunting appeal” Music Week
“The moneyshot (is) a sublime reading of Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’” 4/5 Uncut
“In Our Nature is another timeless classic to delve deep into” Clash
“A further masterstroke from the hand of Gonzalez… A collection of perfectly executed acoustic vignettes” 4.5/5 DJ Magazine
When José González became a household name across the world with the help of 250,000 coloured bouncing balls and a Sony Bravia television commercial featuring his spare and moving version of The Knife’s song, ‘Heartbeats’, it was the second time fame came calling and caused a truly remarkable phenomenon. While studying biochemistry at the university of Gothenburg, José’s debut album Veneer was released in his Swedish homeland in 2003. It made him a national star. Featuring ‘Heartbeats’ and ten other resonant, acoustic songs, Veneer turned José, a Gothenburg (via Argentina) native, into a Top Ten recording artist.
Although momentum had been slowly but surely building in the UK, where he was already a critics favourite following the album’s release on Peacefrog in spring 2005, the simultaneous worldwide airing of the ‘bouncing balls’ ad in January 2006 sent Veneer into orbit. Support at radio included Album of the Week at Radio 2 and playlisting across the radio spectrum, including live sessions for everybody from Zane Lowe, Jo Whiley and Gilles Peterson. The result was platinum album sales in the UK, double platinum in Ireland and Gold in Australia and New Zealand, while in the US, Veneer was picked up by Mute/EMI. With sales of over 400,000 in the UK alone, Veneer was in the Top 40 for six months and was one of only two independent albums certified platinum in the UK in 2006 (the other was Arctic Monkeys’ debut). José appeared on TV shows from Later With Jools to Top of the Pops, began headlining festivals and performing in large concert halls, drawing a reverent and hushed audience round the campfire of his intimate and sombre acoustic performances. To gauge his impact, one only has to learn that the new album In Our Nature will be simultaneously released in 35 countries worldwide!
In 2006, José also toured with Zero 7, having contributed to four songs for their album The Garden. His other band, the trio Junip, with Tobias Winterkorn and Elias Araya, released an EP, ‘Black Refuge’ with an album still in the works. As a genuine fan of leftfield hip hop artists like J Dilla and MF Doom, José was chuffed when Los Angeles DJ/Producer Dert lifted acoustic guitar samples from tracks off Veneer, “reworked and blended with verses from some of today’s most elite underground and mainstream emcees” to create the album Sometimes I Rhyme Slow. Added to this he supported Arcade Fire, Juana Molina and will play with Antony, Joan Baez and Savath and Savalas this summer and has picked up a multitude of fans from Kylie (on hearing his astounding version of ‘Hand on Your Heart’) to Beth Ditto. This is clearly not the usual run-of-the-mill acoustic humdrum.
Now 29, José González embarks on the next chapter of his slowly unfolding musical story. “I didn’t want to write about love,” José says of the songs on In Our Nature, “I wanted to find other, equally universal themes for the songs. These are things I have always been thinking about. But the last six months I became a lot more interested in these ideas after I read the book ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins. He’s an evolutionary biologist. But the lyrics are far from biological – I’d like to point that out. It’s mainly the theme that interests me,” José González says. “I like playing with symbolism. On this album I’ve wanted to bring out the primitive aspects of human beings.”
With a background playing in Swedish punk bands, the potent emotional force distilled within José’s music suddenly makes a lot of sense. Hearing the ten songs on In Our Nature is almost like a palette cleanser – indeed, how invigorating to be absorbed by this music, so unashamedly serious and dedicated, blotting out all distractions and drawing the listener into the purity and intensity of the hypnotic acoustic timbre and the mesmerising tone of José’s vocal rhythms. Even more starkly compelling than before, his approach is identifiably patient, methodical and focused on illuminating melodic details at unexpected angles. As a guitarist, he finds accord with players like Geoff Farina, and in the finger-picking style of Cuba’s Silvio Rodrigeuz. Having worked on the songs at length on his own, the album was recorded to tape in two weeks in a studio in Gothenburg. José (guitar and vocals) is joined by Erik Bodin (percussion), Håkan Wirenstrand (keyboards) and Little Dragon’s songwriter/vocalist, Yukimi Nagamo (backing vocals).
A man who is focussed on the long game, rather than short-term gain, the simple poetry of the lyrics to these new songs reflect concerns that can be applied to both personal relationships and international concerns. Opening with a brave and bold statement that is ‘How Low’ sees José exploring further than ever before vocally and lays bare the intentions of this marvellous record (“Someday you’ll be up to your knees in the shit you seed”). In ‘The Nest’, tiny birds gathering sticks for their bower suddenly turn on each other (“Darkness fell / Wiped out a once joyous tone / Then famished / Like possessed ended up eating their own”). In ‘Killing For Love’ (“What’s the point / If you hate, die and kill for love”) or the title track (“Put down your gun / Ignore the alarm / Open up your heart / Let down you guard”), we are left to ponder emotional crises that resonate long afterwards.
This is not to say that José has lost his ability to make us move involuntarily and embrace abandonment. His cyclical, trance like guitar style cements itself with tunes such as the upcoming single ‘Down The Line’ (released 10th September) and makes lines such as “Don’t let the darkness eat you up” a wonderfully rousing, beautiful call to arms. A similar feeling applies when we hear the pay off from ‘Time to Send Someone Away’ when the line “Feel that summer rain/ It’s is on your face again” feels like your soul is being scrubbed.
From a wide field of cover versions that José has made his own throughout his live shows, Massive Attack’s ‘Teardrop’ is the one he has chosen to include here. Perhaps more than any other track, the unexpected ferocity in the acoustic crescendo and visceral passion that José brings to lines like “Love, love is a verb / Love is a doing word” banish forever any notions of José as an innocuous troubadour. He makes the song his own and nestles it within the fabric of the album such that it is seamless.
In no way has José let us down this time with his fascinatingly layered sophomore release. Welcome him back with both open arms and heart. Even as the last strains of ‘Cycling Trivialities’ fade away, you’ll be reaching for the play button again. He has delivered another timeless, classic album to delve deep into.