In real time, it’s only been a couple of hours since I wrote my review of Robert Deeble’s latest sublimely sad disc, and now I’m confronted by Jose Gonzalez’s. To say they’re cut from the same cloth is a somewhat accurate assessment; but while Deeble’s sound branches out in many instrumental directions, Gonzalez keeps it close to home with a solo acoustic guitar. That weapon of choice and the intimacy with which he wields it lend immediate musical comparisons to Pink Moon-era Nick Drake. Much more self-assured and a lot less desperate than that disc, Veneer is nothing short of an indie troubadour’s dream album.
Gonzalez was borne of Argentinean parents and raised in Sweden. This combination brings about an improbably beautiful dialectic: the mixture of innately impeccable Swedish pop songwriting and a heady knowledge of South American rhythm. On “Remain,” Gonzalez keeps a quiet beat with some hand drums that act as perfect punctuation for his dexterous guitar lines. “Lovestain” boasts a similar intricate and somehow laidback melody that recalls the tropics.
A strong lyricist throughout, Gonzalez doesn’t play the part of the emotionally damaged loner. Instead he sounds weary, but assertive and rarely lets his vocals stray into fey territory. In fact, his matter-of-fact honesty is one of this album’s redeeming features. The album’s closing lines, from “Broken Arrows,” are “The sun went down/and with it the love we found/That’s the way things are sometimes/most of the time.” That last second admission is so very true and so very hard to find in today’s pop music. Without question, this is one of the best albums of the year.