Pop music is such an amazing thing that sometimes the best an artist can do by it is to screw it up as much as possible. Though it’s been shown time and time again that with pop, execution matters at least as much as vision, there are still plenty of folks who, rather than learn sweet dance routines and try to get Pharrell to return their calls, would just as soon put on a pair of bifocals. Nite Jewel is one of these people.
Nite Jewel, neé Ramona Gonzalez, comes to us with a simple lo-fi approach to the music of the masses: muddying up her tracks to the point where they’re a far cry from anything that would ever play on the radio. She’s not the first person to ever have this idea, but she’s likely the first to come at it from the tradition of excellent ’90s R&B girl groups like TLC and SWV. The analogy for Nite Jewel’s music that’s been floating around, likely more because of novelty of the idea than its accuracy, is that of ’80s freestyle gem Debbie Deb on Xanax; however, Debbie Deb has a spunk that no amount of Xanax could drown, a spunk that is missing from Good Evening.
While Nite Jewel’s point of view is a good one, where she loses points is in execution. A few tracks on Good Evening feature minimalism so tedious that they could give you the impression that Nite Jewel is just taking advantage of all of the critical attention that’s paid to lo-fi acts in general. This is always the danger with projects like this, and it’s a trap that Nite Jewel trips into more than once. "Heart Won’t Start" feels like a joke, due more to Gonzalez’s vocals than anything else; the tinny falsetto she employs sounds as if she was moving the microphone away from her mouth during recording, just to see how we would react.
That’s probably not what was going on though, as the majority of the album assures us that this is something that Gonzalez takes pretty seriously, even if her approach is unorthodox. The second half of Good Evening picks up and runs right off, with the hooks hiding under all the reverb and fuzz starting to scratch at the surface with a fair amount of urgency.
The fact about Nite Jewel’s work is that while her peers aren’t doing the same thing, there are other acts who are coming at pop with the same aesthetic tendencies — the best example might be Brooklyn’s High Places. So while vision is important, and Nite Jewel is walking ground that hasn’t been traversed to death, we can’t let execution fall by the wayside.