New Music: Jose Gonzalez – In Our Nature / Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

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No phrase can make the heart sink quite like “singer-songwriter.” Patchouli seems to waft out from between the words along with all the most hippie-tastic implications of “folk music,” and a cue to set your self-indulgence force fields on maximum. While both Iron and Wine (aka Florida-based Sam Beam) and Argentinian-Swedish José González are beardy guys with guitars, they’ve transcended the stereotypes in very different ways: the former bringing in his buddies and aiming for an aural maximalism, the latter isolated in a kind of monkish self-denial. But both have made spectacular albums.

Iron and WineThe Shepherd’s Dog, Iron and Wine’s third album, will immediately surprise anyone familiar only with Beam’s whispery cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights;” the first track, “Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car,” with its jaunty beat and multi-part harmony, is already more New Pornographers than Nick Drake, although, like Drake, Beam’s delicate voice softens these songs, even when there’s a lot going on. It doesn’t take long for more musical influences to pop up: “Wolves” has a roots reggae feel that’s just this side of jam-band, again held in check by Beam’s soft-as-silk vocals.

mojo-photo-josegonzalezlg.jpgCritics talk about the Argentinian influence in Swedish-born José González’ work, but I’m not sure: his precise, almost repetitive guitar work and James Taylor- reminiscent voice express such a bleak world-view, it seems unfair to foist that on a whole country. In Our Nature, expressly concerned with, well, man’s inhumanity to man, doesn’t always avoid the pratfalls of political folk music: “How Low”‘s line, “invasion after invasion,” makes you cringe a little with its awkwardness. But at other times, the restrictive palette, enhanced by a stomp on the down-beat or a bongo slap, seems to explode into a thundering storm of emotion, made all the more powerful by its humble origins.

Both Iron & Wine and González owe debts to Nick Drake, who despite the lovely 2000 Volkswagen ad featuring “Pink Moon” remains criminally below the radar. While González aims towards a melancholy, electronica-covering update of Drake’s folky style, his barely-30-minute-long album seems more a collection of songs; Iron and Wine’s album (over 50% longer!) succeeds as such partially because of its surprising stylistic turns. In any event, after listening to both, I’m getting out Drake’s Bryter Layter for afternoon happy time coffee break listening. After all this tear-jerky music, somebody might want to just check on me later.

Stream all of Jose Gonzalez’ In Our Nature at his MySpace, ditto Iron and Wine’s The Shepherd’s Dog at his MySpace.

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Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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