When José González’s sleepy cover of a super-hip dance track by fellow Swedes the Knife got placed in an artfully directed ad for a Sony TV, it suddenly became apparent that an easily YouTube-able commercial has equal — if not greater — weight than an actual music video. And while González was by no means the first singer-songwriter to get a boost from a commercial (coincidentally, number-one influence Nick Drake and a certain convertible come to mind), his breakout stemming almost entirely from an online video advertising flat-screen TVs seemed to tie his name to technology from the get-go.
In reality, his music could hardly be more organic: short, mellow, guitar-and-voice songs with minimal overdubs, sounding as though they could have been recorded in a single half-hour session. His new record, In Our Nature, is virtually identical to his first, though without any colorful eye candy to accompany it there’s a little more room to hear what’s there. González’s albums are best suited to passive listening, and while that might sound like an insult, it’s not. His voice and his lyrics tend to sit calmly in the background, while his guitar style is mildly hypnotic: drawing equally from old English folkies like Drake and early bossa nova guitarists like Baden Powell, he leans heavily on pedal tones, giving all his rhythms a pulsating quality.
The only disadvantage to this style is that it makes everything he plays, even his covers, sound pretty much the same. Yet even that’s a hard complaint to register against a guy whose entire recorded output totals a mere hour. Instead, it just speaks to how well González functions as a very particular sort of singer: one who’s conscious of the subtleties of how a song is played, and how those seemingly miniscule details of plucking patterns or quiet singing can enormously affect an overall mood. It’s something tons of instrumental musicians, yet fewer straight-up singer-songwriters, are attuned to, and maybe that’s why González drew so many fans the first time around. Then again, maybe it was just all those bouncing balls.