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José's clap of thunder

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José González
In Our Nature
Mute Records
Release Date: 09/25/07

As contrived as it may be, there is a time and place for everything. My father always conveyed this notion to me with the "lightning in a jar" metaphor. When an artist is experiencing the heyday of their career, they have contained this so-called "lightning in a jar". I always thought the point of the whole metaphor was that the volatile lighting in this small-capped jar could dissipate at any given moment. By the time the artist actually realizes what they've got, it's all over anyways.

José González, who hails from Gothenburg, Sweden, had lightning in a jar when he released his immaculate, platinum-certified 2005 debut Veneer. His voice soared in an unobtrusive, idiosyncratic manner that simply could not be replicated. At that time no one was producing anything remotely similar to José's minimal acoustic folk rock, which virtually lulled us into a Paul Simon-esque oblivion.

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Thus, on José's sophomore return In Our Nature the question at hand is really whether or not González managed the impossible: to contain this lightning within the jar. The album opens with his signature staggered plucking and standard percussive tapping. "How Low" plays similarly to its predecessor's opening track "Slow Moves" in length and overall construction. Both songs are just under three minutes long and primarily consist of one lavish guitar riff over and over again. We don't hear a single change in this monotonous procession until the interlude, of course. It was life altering the first time around, but the second time it seems rather jejune.

José González - "Down The Line"

I remember the album opener "Down The Line" from José's awe-inspiring show at the Jensen Rec Center in 2006. The open nylon strums, high-energy bellowing, haunting implied melodies--this is the sort of prime mover, so to speak, which engendered Veneer. The following track "Killing For Love" continues in this fashion with arresting layered harmonies, subdued yet forceful percussive backing and busily plucked verses. Well, I'm convinced he's managed the impossible by this point.

However, there is a substantial batch of moments that are mentally stultifying. Like the awkward harmonized melody on the title track "In Our Nature", the weird pitchless mumbling on "Abram" towards the minute mark, the poorly executed "Time To Send Someone Away", and the cyclical, inordinate eight minute closer "Cycling Trivialities". These songs may have been mind-blowing if they had been released around José's Veneer period.

Unfortunately for González, we have Veneer, this insurmountable tour de force, to compare to. Sometimes the apogee of an artist's achievement overshadows every effort thereafter. In Our Nature is just simply not as flawless and groundbreaking as I dreamt it to be.