Monday, February 2, 2009
In Our Nature - Jose Gonzalez (RIPPED OFF 08)
In Our Nature
Courtesy of Imperial Records.
SCQ Rating: 80%
Purchased as a Christmas gift for my girlfriend, I never held expectations for In Our Nature beyond her discovery and hopeful enjoyment of it. And although I became accustomed to these ten intricate songs, stripped of everything but Gonzalez’s signature guitar styling’s and hand-slapped percussion, the Swedish songwriter’s work hardly touched me until we caught him play last summer. The show was supposed to take place under Boston’s starry skyline but was moved last-minute into museum’s rather formal auditorium. It hardly mattered; once Gonzalez took the stage, I didn’t even know where I was sitting. His voice, even clearer and brilliant than on record, cut into us like an unexpected static-zap. Our attention was immediately held and the man silently went to work with a solitary guitar, feeding off the auditorium’s jarring silence and filling it with cascades of acoustic strums. There were no instances of grandstanding (hell, he could hardly make eye-contact with his microphone) or taking his material to a more crowd-pleasing level, yet his dedication to such skeletal folksongs turned a would-be concert into a spiritual assembly.
Since that night, listening to In Our Nature has never been the same. At first I assumed my attention to the album was a knee-jerk response to witnessing that tremendous show, but in time I’ve realized that Gonzalez’s live-show made me finally get his music. What I once found insufficient about the gentle picking of ‘Fold’ or absent from the tropicalia influence on the title track, I now understand as essential to the young songwriter’s trademarked sound. Those undernourished moments scattered throughout In Our Nature, where restless listeners might long to hear a new instrument, play a purposeful role to Gonzalez’s compositions, matching silence to complex acoustics no differently than his live presence managed. My mistake was to expect more from Gonzalez cosmetically (new instruments, different approaches, expansive production) but his commitment to sparse folk, when given serious listening, is loaded with its own tiny universe of subtle instrumentation, varied strumming, and sparkling production.
That tiny universe swells considerably on finale ‘Cycling Trivialities’, an eight-minute crest of quick finger-picking and thunderous bass that eventually settles into a post-storm lullaby. It’s a prime example of Gonzalez’s ability to comfort and thrill you all at once. Like his debut Veneer, In Our Nature is a half-hour of pensive folk songs. If we’re lucky, he’ll write dozens more with exactly the same focus.