Nite Jewel Liquid Cool

[Gloriette; 2016]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: lite funk, pop, singer-songwriter, dream pop
Others: Grimes, Future Islands, John Maus, Soft Location, Lower Dens, Akina Nakamori

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. It’s still flooring how outsidery this spaced-out funk pop can feel and carry that impervious flash that transcends its vapid connotations and struts away with your blindly dancing heart. And that’s what “Lover” and other post-80s Roxy material did and does at its best.

Like its BoC-style cover art, this album can be the slack-ass facade on your realistic (bird shit, breeze cuts, tiny flies that dart into your face holes, that stained vinyl chaise lounge) patio idyll. It has its share of irresistible hooks — shown in full force on the most One Second of Love-like track, “Kissing The Screen” — but it brings back some of that charmingly grimy, almost conversational feel she started with. Its library-lite funk may be full of syrupy drift, but the progressions are crafty enough to keep the listener from glazing over. Ramona Gonzalez doesn’t write anthems so much as deftly nook anthemic modes with a refined, reflective calm. This is dance music of meditation (on pop and in general), which, in the case of “Boo Hoo” takes what could be a choice stray moment in a Janet Jackson vocal and glowingly frames it in day-glo orange on a dense column of mist. The love of the thing transcends its context every time. These songs are clearly as much tribute as self-expression. Their succinctly pained, wistful nature comes across both earnest and shrewd by design. Hungry hearts are ever bottled up and backed up and wanna fly forward in spite. Over and over again. Steal yourself. Put it to a beat.

Aside from a spoken word segment on one song, Liquid Cool may not be the game-changer that the previous album (not to mention 2010’s bizarrely winning Am I Real? EP) was. In a certain light, it can feel a bit drab, like that Stacey Q-with-a-whiff-of-deep-fat-fryer sort of vibe. But then there are listens where those rudimentary soft glows really swim up. For those of us who aren’t ashamed to admit that they got a lot out of the Altered Zones experiment in 2010 (I still love most of what was covered on the P4k aggregator, and that’ll probably last longer than whatever the backlash was about), you cannot go wrong here. Even when least engaged, there is an undeniable air of promise. Maybe this isn’t the best yet from this project, but it displays a continuing haunted, solitary soul-pop affinity that runs deep enough to eclipse its twee associability. Just as “Let’s Go” showed in 2008, so does “You Now” in 2016. Context is unstable. A good song’s a good song. Best ditch yourself and hold on for that feel.

Links: Nite Jewel

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