In the pines

By SHARON STEEL  |  June 29, 2006

Originally recorded in 2003, the Swedish-born singer’s album found commercial exposure throughout Europe by way of a Sony ad that featured his stripped-down version of “Heartbeats,” originally a dance song by an electronic group called the Knife. Stateside, with the choice insertion of melancholy bender “Crosses” on the O.C.’s 2005 season finale and soundtrack, he quickly bubbled up from blog phenomenon to indie sensation. He shouldn’t be an easy sell but as soon as you hear him he is: González draws from a peculiar potpourri of influences that range from Latin-inspired bossa-nova rhythms to American folk artists to pre-emo bands like Sunny Day Real Estate. Also, guy’s got a voice warmer than the steam leaking from a busted heater.

Aging emo rocker Chris Carraba and nü-folk stand-bys Mason Jennings and Matt Nathanson can skillfully combine a clever chord change with a desperate lyric, but compared to González, they’re just break-up music for airports. His unapologetic no-frills, au natural style is all about the pathetically triumphant moment of restraint that stops you from drunk dialing an ex. During “All That You Deliver,” a couple seated a few rows ahead have their heads buried in each other’s shoulders, but I’m smug because González is singing about a perfect pair who drove each other apart as if it happened to him that afternoon. He knows what’s up: “By the time you reach your goal/Tongues will be twisted/To the point where you lose track of your soul/Distorted pictures is all you deliver.” Maybe it’s not about a relationship — at this point, though, who cares? He’s already plucking out the opener to “Crosses,” and the knots in my stomach loosen for two seconds when he murmurs, “Ignore them tonight and you’ll be alright.” If this was a church, I would let loose a couple hallelujahs. You’re preaching to the Pope, José.

Of course his set is over much too quickly. A brief two-song encore includes an excellent cover of “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” González hits hardest, though, on “Broken Arrows.” At just under two minutes, he weaves a lingering spell with this tune about a goosebump-inducing summer love gone sour. It stings like hell. I want more.

Maybe we missed out on the sultry evening air and a sentimental sunset. Fittingly, since he’s uttered hardly a word of banter all night, González stands and, looking very serious, says he’ll see us again soon. Suddenly he blows a couple of feisty air kisses. A collective sigh escapes. You couldn’t have heard it if you were outside.

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