Album Review: Nite Jewel – Liquid Cool

Ramona Gonzalez owns her sound adeptly on her long-awaited return




In 2012, One Second of Love was supposed to be Nite Jewel’s breakout release. Under that name, Ramona Gonzalez had built up a stellar repertoire of electronic pop either self-released or put out on small, independent labels such as Italians Do It Better, years before Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive helped put a new generation of college students onto Johnny Jewel. For One Second of Love, though, she signed to Secretly Canadian for her most commercially viable record yet, containing pop aspirations with sleeker production and ‘90s R&B melodies. The record’s sublime title track became her most recognizable work, a hypnotic and alluring meditation on the fleeting nature of love. As far as the public was concerned, Nite Jewel was finally having her moment.

Behind the scenes though, the process was filled with frustration and turmoil. In an in-depth interview, Gonzalez explained that her and the label rarely saw eye to eye, and that she felt pressure to shift her sound in a way she was uncomfortable with. “Their version of pop is so unusually different than mine,” Gonzalez explained about her former label. “They’re dealing in Americana and I’m dealing in electro. Like, where are we meeting here.” That fundamental misunderstanding combined with what she described as sexist power-play dynamics with executives led her to split from the label and return to independence. Because of that experience, it’s taken four years for her to complete her follow-up album, Liquid Cool.

While the album was recorded in a relatively short timeframe of January to November 2015, in a way it feels like a point Gonzalez has been building towards over her whole career. She’s been using the term “liquid cool” to describe her music at least as far back as 2010, a term that aptly describes her sound, charismatic and fluid, substantive but challenging to pin down. The record represents a return to form for Gonzalez. Her taking back control of the songwriting and production allows her vision to shine through. Rather than try to force her sound to fit a definition of pop that didn’t suit her, she has made an album that’s more distinct by indulging elements that better fit her approach. The bare-bones production makes it feel natural, partly a rejoinder to the crystalline sheen of commercial electropop but also a darker, restrained approach that suits her experimental tendencies.

Like contemporaries in Jessy Lanza or How to Dress Well, Gonzalez pairs uniquely unsettling production with pop melodies to build an intriguing juxtaposition. “You Now” lays elegiac vocals on top of skeletal, pulsating house rhythms to build a startling mood. The grooving bass lines and upbeat handclaps of “Over the Weekend” are offset by the haunting melancholy of her singing, showing how Gonzalez’s effectiveness lies in her willingness to subvert expectations. She knows what works for her, and that confidence results in songs like “Boo Hoo”, the dance-focused highlight of the record and “Kiss the Screen”, a swooning pop cut that meditates on technology’s impact on relationships without preaching.

For a shorter, condensed album, Liquid Cool contains multiple styles and sensations. There’s the R&B ballad “I Mean It”, a thoughtful contemplation on insecurities in relationships accompanied by a vocal tour de force. Directly following that is the Italo Disco slow-build of “Running Out of Time”, a throwback cut that wouldn’t be out of place on a Chromatics record, spoken-word trancelike outro and all. The album takes some time to come together with the restraint of its first third, but subsequent to that it’s paced nicely, rarely losing momentum or blurring together.

Liquid Cool may be called understated for being Nite Jewel’s first album in four years, but it is refreshingly so. Devoid of expectations or pressures, Gonzalez was able to take the time to put together a more assured and cohesive statement. Combining both lush, elaborate pop and darker, deconstructed electro, Gonzalez adeptly owns her sound throughout her long-awaited return.

Essential Tracks: “You Now”, “Boo Hoo”, and “Kiss the Screen”