Swedish singer-songwriter and guitarist José González is an indie-folk virtuoso. Since dropping his debut record Veneer in 2003, he has rarely strayed from his signature sound and well-tested creative formula. Pick any track from his three albums and you’ll find it’s laced with heavenly vocals, delicate acoustic guitar and evocative lyricism. Not that we’re complaining though. While these elements may sound simple on paper, they’re bewitching in execution.
So it’s probably not entirely surprising that the first few singles from his upcoming fourth record Local Valley hint that it treads a similar path. Because we can hardly wait until it drops on 17 September, we’ve rounded up the top five essential tracks by José González to get you inspired in the meantime.
‘Heartbeats’, Veneer (2003)
González has an unrivalled talent for covering other artists’ songs and completely transforming them into his own. I’ll give an honourable mention to his stellar versions of Kylie Minogue’s ‘Hand On Your Heart’ and Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, but his rendition of The Knife’s 2002 gem ‘Heartbeats’ has to be his best. By swapping out the synth and Bjork-esque vocals for acoustic guitar and hushed croons, he imbues the song with warmth without losing any of the original magic in the process.
‘Stay Alive’, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: Music From and Inspired by the Motion Picture (2013)
One of many musical features in Ben Stiller’s 2013 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, ‘Stay Alive’ is another standout from González’s discography. It’s a humble number that lures you in with ticking percussion and muted harmonies that he actually recorded in his kitchen. Equal parts melancholic and hopeful, he encourages the listener to look beyond day-to-day mundanity and embrace the colourful moments in life. “Dawn is coming, open your eyes,” he echoes over a powerful wave of strings during the spine-tingling bridge.
‘Open Book’, Vestiges & Claws (2015)
‘Open Book’ is the final chapter of his 2015 record Vestiges & Claws. González’s fingers dance across the fretboard to create an intricate and gentle riff that threads the entire song together. Modestly embellished with whistled melodies, picture-painting lyricism and vocals that are almost a whisper, it sounds like the 21st Century’s answer to Simon & Garfunkel. Like the rest of the record, ‘Open Book’ was self-produced and has an unvarnished quality that pairs beautifully with the similarly raw songwriting.
‘Crosses’, Crosses (EP) (2003)
Fun fact: ‘Crosses’ is just one of many iconic tracks to feature on the season two finale of The O.C (CC: ‘Hide & Seek’ by Imogen Heap and ‘Honest Mistake’ by The Bravery). So not only is it an important piece of pop culture history in my book, but it was also my introduction to his work. Another highlight from his 2003 debut, it’s quintessential José González. It’s beguiling, sorrowful and it hurts my feelings with every listen.
‘Visions’, Local Valley (2021)
The second single from his upcoming record Local Valley, ‘Visions’ is a sign of the times that still stays true to González’s roots. He penned the lyrics in February 2020, just as pandemic frenzy spread throughout the world. It’s a sobering track about our role as stewards of this earth and how we’re changing our surroundings at an increasingly rapid pace. This time the familiar acoustic guitar is accompanied by a layer of looping synth and reverbed vocals to create a harmonising effect. The lyrics and music intertwine with tranquil samples of birdsong and ambient sound recorded from the veranda of his family home outside Gothenburg. In typical González style, it’s simple yet entrancing.
Now that you’ve got a refresher on Jose González’s best work, head here to watch González share a live performance of new track ‘Valle Local’, which is set to feature on his upcoming record Local Valley. The live performance is being released exclusively via Jim Beam’s YouTube channel as part of the ‘Jim Beam Welcome Sessions’ series and was filmed at iconic venue The Michelberger, in Berlin.