(Human Ear; 2009)
By Calum Marsh | 26 March 2009
Our first taste of Nite Jewel came late last year, when an alluring music video for “Artificial Intelligence” seeped into the hippest nooks of the internet. “Artificial Intelligence” is what I guess we could call “bedroom dance,” a kind of moody, minimalist electronica reminiscent of Arthur Russell’s posthumous Calling Out Of Context (2004). But its accompanying video, ostensibly a redundant send-up of Vogue culture and banal music video conventions (half the video depicts Gonzalez and her attractive friends waving champagne flutes about in the back of a stretch limo, while the other half takes on the oft-parodied photo shoot from Antonioni’s Blowup), is an explicit statement of artistic intent: take a look at the faux-boredom on the Gonzalez’s face as she cruises down big city streets in the glam limo, or the eye-rolling flippancy flaunted as she resigns herself to the prying lens of her professional photographer. Gonzalez isn’t satirizing the vapidity of celebrity, she’s satirizing anyone satisfied by a simple roll of the eyes or a shrug of the shoulders. It’s against simplistic irony and heartless parody, against a culture which finds everything intolerably dull but which has no solution except to reject it all and just keep partying.
Yep, that’s the project: Nite Jewel is dance music’s answer to hipster-hop house bullshit, a gracious reprieve from the try-hards of contemporary electronica. As an ardent detractor of that whole spazzy try-hard electro dance scene, I welcome more laid back fare like Good Evening with open and accepting arms. I want it to catch on. And Good Evening, with its deliberate pacing and relatively muted aesthetic, makes a good first impression. “Bottom Rung” establishes right away that Nite Jewel’s prerogative is to be a sort of anti-dance dance album, setting a tone (dark and atmospheric, but not melodramatic or morose) that will, for the most part, carry on throughout the album. Good Evening‘s formula—reducible, essentially, to blunt, bassy synths plus simple beats plus Gonzalez’s ethereal and entirely lovely vocals, muffled and hidden within the mix as they so often are—is apparent early and changes little. This is the comprise you make when you choose a few simple pieces and set about constructing an entire album out of them: what intrigues on track one wears thin by track ten. So it goes.
Nite Jewel’s schtick may well revolve around crafting a distinctive and specific sound/mood and doing it well, but Good Evening‘s best moments arise when Gonzalez goes for just a little more range. “What Did He Say” slightly eschews atmosphere in favor of some appreciated momentum (that lead synth is surprisingly infectious), and the pop-oriented “Let’s Go (The Two Of Us Together)” helps to offset pacing issues posed by “Heart Won’t Stay” and “Universal Mind,” which cause a rather unfortunate lull in the midsection. Good Evening‘s best track, though, is the same one that introduced me to Nite Jewel in the first place, “Artificial Intelligence.” It recalls Pleasure Principle (1979)-era Gary Numan in all of the best ways, working even better in the context of the record than it did on its own. Nite Jewel are not a singles band by any means—their work is too reliant on atmosphere and tension to have great affect in the brief amount of time provided by a single alone—which further explains their definition in opposition to peers who see the advent and proliferation of MP3s as a significant return to the single format. It’s refreshing to hear a dance album which at least tries to be a cohesive and unified whole, even if it doesn’t fully succeed in doing so.
In the nightclub scene that is contemporary dance music—crowded as it is with eye-rolling ironists and pomo retro throwbacks, with their “borrowed nostalgia from the unremembered eighties,” to quote James Murphy—Nite Jewel’s debut stands out because it isn’t fixated on being chic; it doesn’t want to affect the look of boredom and cool, cultivated distance. It just does its own thing, at its own pace, from ten till last call without so much as sending a text or updating Twitter. This, finally, is something I can get behind.