Category: Junip

José González covers:
Kylie Minogue, Nick Drake, Joy Division, Springsteen, Low & more!

February 15th, 2011 — 11:04 am

Blogging at the crossroads of coverage and folk music makes for a venn diagram audience: some folks come for the ethnography, others come because they see what we do here at Cover Lay Down as somewhere between a reclamation and repudiation of the popular. And though both blogwatching indie hipsters and purist folkfans claim to represent outsider’s canons, the mere singularity of our existence suggests there’s not a strong overlap in experience or taste between these groups outside of our little node.

Recognizing this allows us to predict a relatively large familiarity gap between one group and another, especially in those cases of artists whose coverage, like their work in general, is oft celebrated in the blogosphere, but who don’t usually self-identify as folk. Today’s featured artist is a perfect exemplar: hipsters know him, but folkies may not, unless they’re habitual television watchers, and remember either his multiple appearances on soundtracks for The O.C., Bones, House, and Scrubs, or perhaps that Sony commercial from a few years ago, the one with 250,000 brightly colored balls falling down a street in San Francisco, set to his cover of The Knife’s Heartbeats.

But though he’s much more likely to show at Coachella than your local folk festival, José González is very much a folk artist, both in the way he watches and reflects a vast swath of culture, and in the intimate acoustic narratives he performs. And though those who think they know González often think of him as an artist who emerged out of the ether less than a decade ago with his solo debut Veneer, which didn’t truly hit US and UK audiences until rerelease in 2005, to make that mistake is to miss the mark on how deep and deliberate his output truly is.

Shyly confident 34 year old José González is known for his classical-style guitar and soft voice, but it wasn’t always the case. Influenced early on by Latin folk, pop, and reggae, he started out at 15 as a bass player in a punk band influenced by Blackflag, the Misfits and Dead Kennedys – hardly a typical start for a performer more often compared to Nick Drake, Tim Buckley, or Brazillian Bossa Nova creator Joao Gilberto.

From there, González spent almost a decade honing his chops in the hardcore ouvre, moving from there to indie rock, and finally settling on the heartbreaking stripped-down sound which first brought him to the attention of Swedish audiences after the century turned. Along the way, he started a PhD in Biochemistry, and developed a taste for deep readings in bioethics and evolutionary biology, which continue to inform his original compositions today.

And this winding path, in turn, can be heard in coverage which ranges much wider than most artists – a tribute to both the unusual path González has taken from punk bassist to indie darling, and to the diverse influences which the Swedish-born artist has internalized as he has perfected his craft over a scant decade of solo performance. Indeed, though he welcomes remixing, and often works alongside electronic music performers to make his music accessible to trance-and-dance-hall audiences, there’s so little overlap in listenership between the pop and electronic worlds González often mines for inspiration and the indie-acoustic realm where he performs, many who hear his delicate covers first never realize that they aren’t originals; see, for example, the ongoing thread in the page for Heartbeats, with its repeated suggestions that fans band together to murder everyone who tagged the song a cover.

But there is a consistency in his output, too. Listeners know: though he prefers to perform bare and honest, even when he teams up with others, like the indiefolk trio Junip, or in collaboration with The Books and Zero 7, that gorgeous guitar with its hypnotic rhythms is a mainstay throughout. And that mystical voice in the wilderness, high and thin, with its faint accent, bubbles faint beneath the surface, always letting the guitar lead, as if the voice was in its neck and strings, with the lyrics solely an afterthought.

It’s not your father’s folk music, to be sure. But if this is the future – part of the same mold as Bon Iver, maybe, with a prescient Nick Drake before him, and a few others of a similarly throbbing, atmospheric indiefolk bent alongside – then I want to be there at the forefront when it arrives. Come with me, won’t you? Here’s José González, covering some songs you’ve never heard – and some you might just find familiar, albeit transformed.

José González is hard to cover – that delicacy is so grounded in his performance, few dare to take on his originals – and, to be fair, with only three full-length albums (two as a solo artist, one with Junip) and a small handful of EPs under his belt, there’s not much materials out there to cover in the first place. YouTube is stuffed with bedroom imitators, for example, but these amateurs trend heavily towards note-for-note retreads of both his covers and originals, among them Cycling Trivialities, Crosses, and other fan favorites, the best of which garner high praise from commenters for sounding “just like him”.

But his interpretations of other people’s songs have widened their appeal, providing a channel for otherwise-unheard off-genre songs to make it into the hands of other singer-songwriters. As such, Today’s Bonus Tracks offer a few transformative second-hand covers, clearly influenced by – and sometimes even erroneously attributed to – our featured performer.

1,125 comments » | Jose Gonzalez, Junip

Elseblogging: Songs Inspired by Literature at Audiography

March 21st, 2008 — 02:36 pm

Just dropped a sprawling post over at “collaborative music blog” Audiography, where this week’s theme is “songs inspired by literature.” It’s not all covers, and some tracks have been posted here already, but head on over for a decent smorgasbord of sound, plus the usual diverse set of on-topic contributions from the rest of the community.

My own offerings include a couple of great folkrock takes on Dylan’s biblical apocalypse All Along The Watchtower, reposts of The Indigo Girls covering Mark Knopfler’s Romeo and Juliet and a few great kidfolk tunes by The Chieftains and Moxy Fruvous, and two original versions (produced and live acoustic) of Tell Your Story Walking, a stunning, award-winning song based on Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn, written and recorded by singer-songwriter Deb Talan before she became half of The Weepies.

Before you go, here’s a Cover Lay Down exclusive: Jose Gonzalez’ new Swedish indiefolk band Junip covering Springsteen’s ode to The Grapes of Wrath, and a funky countrygrass romp through the world of Lewis Carroll, as filtered through the psychadelic sixties, recorded live at Kerrville Folk Fest a few years back.

Back Sunday with yet another tribute to the best cover artists of the folkworld. Enjoy the long weekend!

1,065 comments » | Bruce Springsteen, Elseblog, Jose Gonzalez, Junip, Karen Abrahams, The Austin Lounge Lizards