What we’re listening to (#17): ‘Veneer’ by José Gonzalez

Anyone who knows me well enough knows that I’m a supporter of Swedish singer-songwriter José Gonzalez and his stripped down album Veneer, the only two personnel on the record being himself and Stefan Sporson (who appears on only one track, ‘Broken Arrows’).

Not only is Gonzalez a very talented guitarist, but he also has a knack for bringing somewhat-classically styled playing to a larger audience in the format of indie-folk tunes. In fact, he’s so talented that it kind of takes away from his lyrical prowess, which when you look at on paper, is nothing to go crazy over, with much repetition being used throughout – however, when you combine the two together, along with his low almost mumbling voice which are double tracked to great effect at various points on tracks, it creates a very ethereal atmosphere.

The only time he picks up the energy (only very slightly) is in ‘Hints’, centered around a fairly complex riff when combined with the fact he’s singing over it – his lyrics are more forcefully delivered, the guitar more tense, the only percussion present being Gonzalez’s fingers move up and down the fretboard, his use of non-standard tunings creating an interesting chordal basis for the track.

Other originals like ‘Crosses’ and ‘Remain’ continue to showcase talent, particularly his unique strumming and picking patterns,  but perhaps the repetitive lyrics might throw some listeners off. The latter’s riff stuck in my head long after my first listen, and the very well built up ending is another instance where Gonzalez goes a bit more upbeat, with Bonfa-esque jazz vibes.

The song that most people know from this album is ‘Heartbeats’, a cover of a song by the Swedish band the Knife – perhaps most remember the Sony Bravia television shot in San Francisco advert more. Even though it’s not his own song, he makes enough changes to it to keep it original, to keep you listening, and whilst he was that, he also crafted a melody that many aspiring guitarists took their time to learn (including myself). The lyrics, whilst not his, are poignant and are sung poignantly:

“And you, you knew the hands of the devil
And you, kept us awake with wolf teeth
Sharing different heartbeats
In one night”

This album has the power to put you asleep, and I mean this in a good way – Gonzalez’s voice has a certain quality that is difficult to place your finger on.

If you’re craving for something different, pick up this album.

This article was written by Mo Hafeez

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