Album Review: Nite Jewel – Am I Real?

Komische musik, and to a lesser extent, krautrock, have each seen a resurgence of late. Artists like Oneohtrix Point Never, Radio People, and Emeralds are curating a sort-of revival of the former, while Deerhunter, Liars, The Secret Machines, and Turing Machine have over the course of the last decade at least nodded to the latter. Somewhere in between these fetish genres lies another influential sound that’s also in vogue again: German electro pop. The most obvious example of this can be traced to Coldplay’s near-entire melodic lift of Kraftwerk’s “Computer Love” in the British pop band’s massive 2005 hit “Talk”. On the opposite end of that extreme is L.A.’s Nite Jewel, the solo project of Ramona Gonzalez, who pays homage not so much by sampling but by taking cues from the genre’s austere, yet warm aesthetic and penchant for philosophical inquiry. “What can I say for myself … Am I real”? Gonzalez questions in the final song’s chorus, displaying the existential underpinning of her spacial, and at times dark, second release.

Despite her debut, Good Evening (Human Ear), quietly arriving just two years ago, Gonzalez’s subdued dance style has already earned Nite Jewel the adoration of lo-fi tastemakers like Gorilla vs. Bear and influential artists such as HEALTH, Caribou, and DâM-FunK, all of which she’s collaborated with via remixes or joint releases. The acclaim is notable not so much because it’s surprising, but because it demands of music fans an extra effort. Gonzalez isn’t making music that will immediately cause the average listener to bite, but the amount of respect she’s received in a mere 24 months will inevitably endear a wider audience to her work and for good reason. What perhaps they would’ve missed while navigating the frenetic pace of the blogosphere has been adored by her colleagues the whole time: Nite Jewel’s subtle, exacting invocation of European pop and the woven texture Gonzalez creates with almost purely analog gusto.

On opener “Another Horizon”, Gonzalez and frequent collaborator Cole M. Greif-Neill (ex-Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) provide a roadmap for the EP’s 26 minutes, shunning the visceral, over-compressed synth walls characteristic of much of today’s pop and dance music for more elegant pad and reverb-soaked drum tones. Everything from the nostalgic echo of the snare hits to the natural glow of the analog synths to the sheer crawl of the songs suggests a dedication to an identity that’s not always easy to cultivate this early in a songwriter’s career. The pair also re-establishes upfront the hazy, am-I-awake-or-dreaming vocal style Gonzalez and her GvB-approved peers are so well-known for, though ultimately the largely indecipherable nature of her performances hinder the songs’ chances for a prolonged shelf life. Nevertheless, it’s promising that the EP’s best and final track, the nu-funk inflected “Am I Real?” (Feat. Teen Inc.), boosts a more-spirited Gonzalez to the fore, revealing a strong voice that’s often dulled down amidst her typically languid delivery.

The vocals taken with a grain of salt, then, Am I Real? is more importantly an incredibly warm collection of songs with a production character on par with Air’s Moon Safari, Stereolab’s Margerine Eclipse, or Curiosum by Cluster, the perennial German act that Gonzalez cites as a major influence. “We Want Our Things”, “Falling Far”, and “Am I Real?”, in particular, exhibit a timelessness in their labored-over, space pop affection while perhaps unknowingly making a statement: Gonzalez is more concerned with imparting a singular feeling of float-away ebullience than giving listeners a multi-dimensional experience. Before you mentally relegate Nite Jewel to glorified background music, though, I’d encourage you to sit with these sneaky, slow-burning songs, compositions that seem to change color with each rotation, and you’ll more likely find that the EP is an understated work with vision. In the end, it’s no wonder the above-mentioned luminaries see such great potential in Gonzalez.


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