Release Date: Jun 10, 2016
Record label: Gloriette
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Indie Pop
The strength of Nite Jewel's music has always been in Ramona Gonzalez's voice. Her whispered, R&B-style performance lends an effortless cool when juxtaposed with the sharper sound of percussion and the deep pulse of bass synths. Take for instance Liquid Cool's opening track 'Nothing but Scenery': Gonzalez's voice glides over the moody rhythm section, combining with the brighter synthesiser chimes almost as though she's becoming part of the "scenery".
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.
After years of releasing music on various smaller labels like Italians Do It Better and her own Gloriette Records imprint, Ramona Gonzalez decided to hook up with the well connected indie hub Secretly Canadian in time for her 2012 sophomore album, One Second of Love. The arrangement, however, proved to be short lived and less than ideal for both parties in the end: The label's expectations for sleek commercial pop clashed with her own independent principles and the tension and creative differences led her to parting ways with the label not long after the album's release. "They were making the process feel toxic because they were putting too much pressure on me to create something that, I didn’t really even know what they wanted me to do, because their version of pop is so unusually different than mine," she explained in an Artistdirect interview.
Associations can be scrubbed, internet! It’s a key demo, “association scrubbers,” just like the “you’re doing it wrong” crowd that scoffs at those who ignore said associations — perhaps only to allow an uncannily attuned artist to perfect (or at least endeavor to perfect) nostalgic confections of the recent past without having to answer to forces outside of their muse. As the cover closing out Nite Jewel’s debut ably shows, late-period Roxy will do for context. Because that’s the sort of droll pleasure that still drives (albeit with a decidedly different fidelity and vocal style) Good Evening, and it’s the sort we are hit with now on Liquid Cool.
As she proved on her previous album, Gonzalez can deliver irresistible hooks as often as her contemporaries when she wants to, and Liquid Cool boasts some of her freest-sounding pop songs yet. "Kiss the Screen" and "Boo Hoo" are shimmery fantasies of longing and disconnection, and while it's tempting to imagine what they'd sound like with more deluxe production values, the slight amount of sparkle Gonzalez gives them is arguably more effective than full-on glitz. Likewise, it's not hard to imagine Kate Boy or even Carly Rae Jepsen performing "I Mean It," but Gonzalez turns it into a song more appropriate for the bedroom than the dancefloor.
As music fans, we're accustomed to reading about epic clashes between artists and major-label record execs. But even musicians on smaller labels can run into grievances. For Nite Jewel’s Ramona Gonzalez, her disillusioning run came not from Sony or Warner Music or any of their many wholly owned subsidiaries, but from the indie hub Secretly Canadian—hardly the kind of greedy corporate fat cats you picture artists duct-tapping their mouths in protest over.
About eight years ago, LA’s Ramona Gonzalez was at the forefront of a wave of faintly avant-garde female bedroom artists reimagining synth pop (her friend Julia Holter had another trajectory). The early 80s have been revived more times than is strictly necessary – artists such as Grimes, meanwhile, have run far with the same idea – but Nite Jewel’s third album bears examination – a west coast companion piece, perhaps, to Shura’s recent album. Liquid Cool might lack the muscular tunes needed for a crossover, but period-perfect tracks such as Kiss the Screen or Over the Weekend nag persuasively.
Time, as the old adage goes, heals all manner of wounds. In the always-on ADD culture of the twenty-first century though, when news cycles are refreshed before they’ve even fully buffered and your personal timeline is public, time’s got even more of a job on its hands. Nite Jewel’s Ramona Gonzalez has had four years to test out the theory. The outcome? A partial rejection of the road more taken.
Faced with writer’s block, and following a dispute with her record label, Ramona Gonzalez recorded this album in a closet. Two closets, to be exact, in two different parts of LA, where Gonzalez has crafted Nite Jewel’s glassy, minimal synth pop style over the course of the past decade. The details might be apocryphal, but they feel true, such is the hermetic feel of the work.