Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Album Review: Nite Jewel - Good Evening

Nite Jewel: Good Evening
[Human Ear 2009]

6.5/10

On Good Evening, dance music has migrated off the dance floor and into hipster bedrooms. And this brand of it belongs there, because aside from its serious, avant-garde artist demeanor, Good Evening is radically divorced from the action-packed, body-moving efficiency of traditional dance music, be it top-40 dance remixes or variations of techno. Instead, Nite Jewel (L.A.’s Ramona Gonzalez) is an ethereal, often slow-motioned send up of ‘80s dance/synthpop.

Good Evening is dominated by keyboards, bass and neon. Every track rides a smooth wave of colorful synths that feel like samples plucked from two and a half decades back. Throbbing basslines lend tracks like “Suburbia” a forward-looking momentum. Looped drum beats vary from the smacking reverberations of “Weak For Me” to the tinny timekeeper on “Bottom Rung.”

Style is everything in Nite Jewel’s world. “Liquid cool,” the status on the band’s Myspace page, is an accurate self-characterization of the music. No matter the pace, songs on Good Evening would warrant music videos in slow motion, as they try to radiate a clubby sense of cool and sophisticated in-crowd-ness. “What Did He Say,” one of the record’s more enduring songs, occupies the same dark and smoky nightclub corners as Portishead’s Dummy. Conceptually, with its ever-present alluding to dance culture, Good Evening suggests that amidst the smoke and flashing lights, the club is full of lonely people seeking deeper connections than they are capable of and finding only false hope and emptiness under the neon lights.
 
But once again, the ability to set a specific aesthetic or mood is Nite Jewel’s primary currency. Her lyrics are seldom discernible, or likely important for that matter. Her submerged vocals feel far away and washed out with echo and saturation to the point where her voice becomes more of a sonic rather than narrative vessel. Through clearer lyrics, she is, however, trying to harder to say something on the moody pop song “Artificial Intelligence,” perhaps criticizing pretentious artistic license (“you’re not making a statement”).

While Gonzalez’s singing serves a purpose beyond lyrics, her usually high pitched vocals as part of Good Evening’s general aesthetic can grow bothersome. The adolescent sighs on “Weak For Me” are too na├»ve for her own good and elsewhere, her layered vocals feel like corny ‘80s relics, no matter how true to the decade’s aesthetic she may be reaching for. Additionally, while the album isn’t fit for a nightclub, some of the tracks unfortunately pick up the more uncomfortable traits of the venue: stale ambiance and the tedium of repetition. Despite how well Nite Jewel pegs this murky, 80’s synthpop sound (as her “statement”), many of the songs don’t have lasting power and melodic warmth.

It’s ultimately hard to appraise Good Evening as it has a very specific objective to hit a particular sonic niche. In honoring ‘80s dance and synthpop while infusing modern innovations, Gonzalez succeeds and captures a unique and interesting sound. But Nite Jewel would resonate more strongly if songs revealed more engaging personalities and melodic diversity. If she were to continue to hit the target established by Good Evening, on the other hand, at least she’d sound cool doing it.

Photo by dsbartholow.

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