I have interviewed José González twice in my life and own a number of his records in different formats. I know that he shared a Gothenburg studio with The Knife, which is where he fostered a friendship that would allow him to turn their ‘Heatbeats’ from a cult fave into a TV commercial. We’ve talked about him before, more than a few times. And yet, and yet. The man is too nice. His music, despite its often sinister lyrical undertones, is too pleasant. He spent a few years playing bass in a melodic death metal band for God’s sake. Somehow, despite this, and how undeniably beautiful his writing is and arresting his voice, González becomes forgotten. In a sea of other inoffensive, talented artists also beginning with ‘J’ – Jose James, Jamie Cullum, Jamie Lidell (in some respects), Jack Johnson, Jamiroquai – the man sort of fades into the background. there are two times that I actively listen to González these days; when I want to unwind or when I want to have sex. And it is the release of this new song – a cover no less – which has brought into sharp focus how very much I have neglected this fine musician lately.
So now to amend that. González, having taken a detour for a bit with his band, Junip, is returning to his acoustic and has a new record on the way. In the meantime, he is one of a number of very excellent musicians who submitted tracks to one of the best compilations I’ve heard this year, Master Mix: Red Hot + Arthur Russell. Arranged by an AIDS charity and Pitchfork, it focuses on cult artist/cellist/arranger Arthur Russell, who died in relative obscurity only to achieve a significant following in the afterlife. As far as ways in go, this one’s a doozy, with everyone from Blood Orange to Robyn and Scissor Sisters lining up to cover the man. González’ cover, which he makes his own as he does every appropriation (Massive Attack’s Teardrop’ among them) thus serves as an entry for me to Russell’s catalogue, as well as a reintroduction to his own. It’s a win-win.
Russell, from what I can gather, was best known for his delicate arrangements and use of unique instrumentation, particularly that cello. To González’ credit, the main thrust of that feeling is still evident in his version, even though he’s using acoustic guitar to achieve that haunting bass line. He also augments the repeating motif with some great horn parts that exist in the original but with nowhere near as much force. Using only the faintest of drum pulses, likely achieved from hitting the body of his guitar in overdubs – González somehow manages to pay lip service to what is an undoubtedly unique piece of music while crafting something equally as compelling. He’s fucking talented, let there be no doubt about that. There’s some gorgeous unison lines here between lower brass and lead guitar that tell me everything I need to know about where this song will go. It’s light and dark, laidback and insistent. It couldn’t, in all actuality, be performed by anyone else.
Relaxation and fornication, sure. But Jose González can soundtrack so much more.
Jose González – ‘This Is How We Walk On The Moon’