Studio Album by released in 2003

Veneer review

Gonzalez's music is infused with the spirit of Nick Drake

Aside from the villages of the Southern Gothenburg Archipelago in Sweden, where residents operate on a strict no-car policy (they have fishing cottages, bush-laden pathways and tram transportation – but no cars), Jose Gonzalez’s Veneer might be another item that qualifies for a bullet point in the next edition of Fodor’s Travel Guide. A native of Sweden’s second largest city, Jose Gonzalez managed to find enough solace and quaintness among Gothenburg and its nearly 800,000 inhabitants to record Veneer. Anyone familiar with the Sony Bravia advert – the one with all the colored balls bouncing along the streets of San Francisco – will have heard, and probably been transfixed by, Heartbeats. The refreshingly uncluttered, and poignant acoustic guitar and voice song is one of the tracks featured on this album by 27-year-old Swede of Argentinean descent, alongside other well executed and captivating songs. Gonzalez’s music is infused with the spirit of Nick Drake – most tracks just feature an acoustic guitar and his rich, expressive voice. As befits the acoustic setting, all the songs here are very strong, as indeed they have to be in order to stand up in such a sparse background.

Every piece of Veneer is rich in its own bare beauty

Gonzalez says his influences range from bossa nova to Joy Division and those emotional and musical polar opposites are explored on expansive, pensive tracks such as Stay In The Shade and Hints, while the stark clarity of Jose's vocals and thoughtful lyrics shine throughout. His South American roots are occasionally evident with percussive and melodic embellishments, giving the artist his unique identity, while Jose's raw talent is always firmly at the center. Remain with its flamenco touches adds a very Spanish flavor, while Lovestain is just stunning. Dark and mysterious, with Gonzalez singing some of the saddest lyrics you'll hear all year, it's one of the best tracks on here. Other notable tracks include Crosses, which is harder and more aggressively played, something like a male Cat Power, and the conventional but compelling Save Your Day. Though every piece of Veneer is rich in its own bare beauty, the complete overturning that he handed Heartbeats from Sweden’s quirky, electronic pop outfit the Knife is one standout. Its soft, glowing aura of meshed rhythms and delicate guitar leads is a far cry from the original’s sugary, scorching synths and dance-floor-ready grooves. The closing Broken Arrows, with its gorgeously mournful trumpet, could be the most uplifting two minutes you'll have heard in quite a while.

A wonderful notice of a very special talent

Jose Gonzalez is a top-ten chart artist and revered troubadour figure in Sweden, where he is cherished equally by the musical cognoscenti, seriously besotted critics and hordes of regular Nordic punters. Jose’s music is as economical as it is seductive; stark but effortlessly melodious songwriting whose confessional, gently provocative lyrics (all sung in perfect English) are, by turns, poignant, intriguing and life-affirming. Unlikely as it may seem, Gonzalez’s musical journey began with hardcore punk as bass player in the Big Black influenced Back Against The Wall and Renascence, before trying his hand at indie pop. Yet an upbringing steeped in his Argentinean father's love of classical guitar meant that he found his niche in the South American tinged melancholy folk music that Veneer specializes in. There may not be much variation in pace in Veneer, but those who succumb to its languid charm will find that this becomes one of their most played albums. An album to grow old with, this is a wonderful notice of a very special talent. Veneer has been out for a while in Europe but now has made its way into the North American market and with any luck it may become an underground hit.