Boomkat Product Review:
Nite Jewel's fourth album is her saddest and best yet, edging away from the neon funk of 2017's "Liquid Cool" into melancholy avant pop territory, referencing Kate Bush, Arthur Russell, Suzanne Ciani, Sun Ra, Air via classic Junior Boys.
In the four years since she released her last album, Ramona Gonzalez's life has shifted dramatically. Her 12-year marriage dissolved in 2018, while she simultaneously began working on a PhD in musicology at UCLA. Rather than allow the stress to overwhelm her creativity, these life events provide the inspiration and creative nourishment for her most startling and coherent work to date.
Researching the history of women's voices in laments for her PHD, Ramona began to question the role of the contemporary pop diva, where women are often employed to channel the work of male composers and producers. On "No Sun", Gonzalez processes her own sadness, but as both producer and vocalist is able to examine her own lament from a unique perspective; absent is the flickering funk-pop of "Liquid Cool" and in its place is a voice that's never sounded more vulnerable, honest or more effective.
Opening track 'Anymore' sounds like the opening of a musical, with Gonzalez's startling vocal couched over Moog arpeggios that could have been snipped from Laurie Spiegel's "The Expanding Universe". It's a daring introduction that foreshadows Gonzalez's shift in tone perfectly, while 'Before I Go' settles into more familiar territory, echoing the stripped pop of Gonzelez's outstanding debut album "Good Evening", but retaining a lilting sadness.
Long-time friend and collaborator Julia Holter shows up to add synths on 'Show Me What You're Made Of', one of the few tracks on "No Sun" to feature prominent drums that echoes the loungey slo-mo pop of Air or the Krautrock-inspired synth shimmer of Portishead's "Third". The percussion stands out, because across the rest of the album Gonzalez is reluctant to emphasize drums at all. On 'To Feel It', she lets a squelchy, acidic synth and bass do most of the work, hinting at the out-there disco-pop production techniques of Arthur Russell but centering the voice as a storytelling device - both in its tone as well as content - in a way that's reminiscent of Kate Bush.
This technique works wonders, showing the intense connection between Gonzalez and her Moog synthesizer and highlighting her confidence at this stage in her career. Production can all too often get in the way of good ideas, and Gonzalez never capsizes the boat, knowing exactly how much is just enough. She allows her experimental side to shine through too, toying with synth bleeps and squiggles on 'No Escape' and '#14' and fittingly closing on a charming cover of Sun Ra's 'When There is No Sun'.
The lament is in sensitive hands here; Ramona Gonzalez has funneled her sadness, academic research and advanced production skill into her most complete and satisfying album, for our money one of the best pop records you'll hear this year.