Jose Gonzalez

Jayanthi K. Daniel

not to mention the radio. If only...

Jose Gonzalez

Jose Gonzalez

City: New York
Venue: Joe's Pub
Date: 2006-03-22

The idea of foreign interlopers saving (or subverting) another culture isn't anything new. Without Arabic translations of works by Plato and Aristotle, the world would have lost some of the most important philosophy ever written. Islamic philosophers like Ibn Rushd and Avicenna were, in a way, rock stars in their time, keeping Socratic ideas alive for the centuries to come. And now, the Vikings are mounting a second invasion, but instead of keeping practitioners of art from keepin' on, they have become like the Middle Eastern philosophers of yore. al-Ghazali, meet Jose Gonzalez. Gonzalez, an Argentinean-Swedish singer-songwriter, is one of a number of Scandinavian performers yanking folk rock back from the menacing grip of Top-40 musicians like John Mayer and Jack Johnson. Those better-known guys aren't writing bad songs per se, but they do practice a kind of methodical, rote songwriting aimed directly at the center. Gavin DeGraw's "Chariot" is a good example: the song has a sharp piano introduction, but lyrics like "I said to myself, we all lost touch /.../ Nothing from the ground is good enough / Body rise, look what's over me" are disconnected and insensible. The John Mayers and Gavin DeGraws have a formula that works, sure -- one that male singer-songwriters try to emulate. But Swedish artists like Jose Gonzalez and Nicolai Dunger are aiming to do something a little more pure. Dunger just released Here's My Song, a collaboration with Mercury Rev. Like Ed Harcourt, Dunger levels a cabaret-focused eye on music, creating lush pop songs that are whimsical and full of sincerity.

Jose Gonzalez
multiple songs: MySpace
Gonzalez takes his music down a couple notches as well. 2005's Veneer showcased Gonzalez alone on his guitar -- no embellishments necessary. And at New York's Joe's Pub, he put on a show that exemplified that style. The most distinct element of Gonzalez's performance is his vocal approach. He clips the end of his lines, enunciating the last syllables of his lyrics as if he's rushing to finish. It's a kind of hiccup that snaps listeners to attention instead of lulling them away -- it also makes for captivating listening. This rush is indicative of the rest of his show as well. Gonzalez's set lasted exactly an hour, without any pauses, except to point a finger to his microphone every so often as a signal to the sound guy. No shout-outs to the ladies, no commenting on New York cab drivers, Gonzalez just performed his songs one after another. Some might think this cold, but I found the simplicity refreshing. Sitting on stage alone, the tall and gangly Gonzalez looked like he was performing on the edge of his bed, rehearsing alone. During "All You Deliver" and "Hints", he plucked his strings in pure Lindsey Buckingham-fashion. While performing "Slow Moves", it seemed his guitar might overwhelm the vocals, but Gonzalez leaned into his lyrics just enough to rise above the accompaniment. Tilting his head back while hitting the chorus to "Hints" was one the few times he showed true emotion, scrunching his face up to bleat out "We need hints before we get tired / We need speed before we lose pace." Gonzalez struck the perfect balance between emotion and serenity, and when he let himself become really immersed in a song, it made the performance that much more powerful. During a late-set cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart", Gonzalez sat straight up and leaned over his guitar, striking his chords sharply. This woke the crowd up even more, and he sang out the chorus, not with Ian Curtis's resigned, low tone, but with an almost panicked energy that gave one the feeling of falling. After quieter lullabies like "Heartbeats" and "Deadweight on Velveteen", "Love Will Tear Us Apart" was like a jolt of hot espresso for the audience, and they drank it up appreciatively. Jose Gonzalez's music is uncomplicated and clean, so much so that when he goes beyond his natural plaintiveness his energy seems magnified. Most music produced by mainstream singer-songwriters these days lacks that spontaneous edge. If only Jose Gonzalez became the pop standard; he could save the male singer-songwriter's from themselves -- not to mention the radio. If only...

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Kehr was one of the best long-form essay writers people read for clear and sometimes brutally honest indictments of film.

It's perhaps too trite and rash to conclude that the age of good, cogent film criticism is over. They still exist out there, always at print publications such as The New Yorker and at major newspapers like The New York Times. An argument can be made that the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert became a better writer when he departed from cinema and covered literature, book collecting, or even the simplest pleasures of life. If we look at the film criticism of James Agee from the '40s, or even the short but relevant stint of novelist and short story writer Graham Greene as a film critic, we come to understand that the greatest writing about film went beyond the spectrum of what they saw on the screen.
Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.