Nite Jewel - Good Evening
1980, Art School, New York. Sweltering Summers. Big Yellow Taxis. Steam billowing through street grills. Talking Heads / Tom Tom Club, Marley Marl, Blondie, Afrika Bambaataa, CBGBs, Mantronix, Devo, The Chelsea Hotel, Laurie Anderson. This is everything I hear when I'm listening to Nite Jewel's (aka Ramona Gonzalez's) debut. It's so NY Art School it's quite disorientating to discover it was actually made in LA. Surely LA is plastic fantastic, Mouseketeers and hair metal?? Still, it's all of those classic Big Apple things and yet oddly, none of them individually. It's both freak and unique, just how I like 'em. Folks, Walk This Way.
The first thing you'll notice is 'The Sound' itself. The sound quality is shall we say, 'interesting'. We're a million miles from the smug polished sound of Timbaland or Chris 'Clubber Lang' Brown. This is proper old skool 'cassette-in-a-beatbox, dancin'-on-a-piece-of-cardboard' magic. Buffalo Gals go round the outside please, let's not descend into chaos. The sound is dense, compact, even dubby, like it's being transmitted via AM radio from Planet Claire. There's even an authentic audible hiss throughout which proudly confirms its origins on this bedsit Mozart's 8-track recorder. As listeners we're so institutionalised to crystal clarity it's seriously off-putting at first - but stick with it as over repeated listens it becomes a strength, a medal of honour. It's such an odd spectacle you'll feel you've discovered, whilst tediously turning turnips in the yard and buried deep under the mud, a big ol' bag of booty.
Then there's that voice; floating in and around the king tubby basslines, sparkly cosmic sounds and tinny drums like some electric phantom. It's almost impossible to decipher any of the words but you catch the odd falling diamond only for it to instantly melt in your hand like a snowflake. Is she saying “Do you have tears...I am not an Alien?” on Artificial Intelligence??. Don't look for answers just enjoy the trip, and it is a trip. It's Lady Day Billie Holiday swinging over Grandmaster Flash jams firing out of a nearby ghetto blaster whilst you're draped on the sidewalk emptying a bottle of Absinthe. All green fairies, mist and Adidas.
It's an album rich in sound, rhythms and knee deep in highlights. It's illegal to hear What Did He Say and not shake what yo' momma gave you. From the crack of the finger clickin' good intro to the Fred Astaire-in-the-Bronx bass hoppin' riff to its cardiac stop-start finale it's wonderfully addctive. Weak for Me meanwhile is an alternative pop gem; melodic, chirpy, deliriously bonkers, there's literally too much to process. Sounds whizz around your head, poke you in the tummy, tickle your ear and slap your butt all at once.
Some of Good Evening reminded me of early Prince when he was buried in the basement under his drum machines, synths, high heels and flasher macs. Chimera in particular recalls the Prancin' Purple Perv's Automatic with its steam iron percussion, windscreen wiper clicks, Horny Toad bass and bontempti hand claps. It reinorgorated my inner funky president and I flipped some '82 spins in my boudoir dashed with some spontaneous scissorkicks for the ladies. I got mad skillz like that.
Like the best records it takes a bit of tuning-in 'mentally'. At first I didn't even know how to tackle this puppy. It's a magic eye record, be patient and keep lookin'. If you've dipped your toes in and it felt frosty try going through the door marked Lover. No, that's not prison talk!! I mean you should taste the sublime cover of Roxy Music's tenderoni classic, Lover. It does the sort of things to my heartstrings that would usually warrant a night in A&E, or alternately a night in the cells. When the woo's start at 3:30 and our sexy spook coo's “Lover, when you take me I could die. Hold me, hold me tonight” it floors you like a locomotive and makes you wanna run out into the street and slowdance with the first person you see. Which is a little dangerous in my neighbourhood.
I'm not surprised to hear Nite Jewel is currently cross pollinating with the electro pioneers at Italians Do It Better. That record label is like a magnet to freaky geniuses everywhere - this is sexy, uninhibited music infused with the tiniest edge of sadness and a childlike sense of wonder. It's far, far too rich and strange to crash the mainstream but if it did in the same twist of fate that made stars of Prince, Cobain or Bjork it would make for a infinitely more interesting and colourful pop landscape.
It's hard to say how well the songs from Good Evening will survive in isolation or being strummed by some hobo on the underground, but this seems almost irrelevant. It exists in itself and as an album it's bloomin' wizard and conjures much sweet alchemy. Admitedly being a 'Lyric Whore' I struggled at first to connect, but once I lay back and succumbed to its lucky charms it was easy to fall for its mysterious Planet Xanax glow. I felt I was sliding under a marshmellow duvet and dreaming myself a beautiful alternative cartoon existence a million miles away from cracking rocks on the chaingang. Only music can be such a wonderful elixir. Take a sip of this good stuff and file under 'Special'.