I love to visit planet Nite Jewel. It’s no place like home. Totally freaky and uniquey. My last trip? That endless summer spent orbiting 2008’s Good Evening. High chihuahua. Was it real, a dream, or somewhere in between? I can recall being lifted up, wrapped up in cotton clouds, moonbeams and comet, then gently rolled back under the duvet exactly thirty-three-and-a third revolutions later. The sounds, the smells, the lights, and that weird ‘n’ wired feeling. Yep, I know that feeling. For those who’ve never been, I’d say the perfect time for departure is, ooh, roughly 3:33 on a late August afternoon. Make sure you’ve a few absinthes inside you, just to blur the edges, to free yo’ mind and loosen the limbs. Oh, and enjoy this trip…and it is a trip.
Sadly, this new trip is more of a weekender tease as Am I Real? is a slim six-song EP. Oh well, best unpack and get cracking then? Nice to report most things are how I recollect. “Another Horizon” swiftly ushers in Ramona Gonzalez’s otherworldly flutter-by vocals, swirling around the heart like silver sylvan waifs and golden water nymphs. Despite my best efforts to bag souvenirs, only fleeting phrases can be caught slipping through the ether. The lo-fi sounds glisten and sparkle like huggable hazy sunshine and Sesame Street colours and puppets. I think there are clouds in my coffee, clouds in my coffee. No make that Starfish and Coffee. Flickering crystal synths and the sound of the sidewalks, windscreen wipers swaying in momentary synchronicity, a chorus of spectators idly tapping teaspoons—all these come to mind. Like I said, freaky and uniquey.
Yes, thankfully Am I Real? retains the basement dreamer quality and misfit curiosity of its predecessor. There are charming cracks and teasing twists along this yellow brick road. “Falling Far”, for example, is impossible to describe without sounding like a terminal psychiatric patient. Put simply, it’s the combination of your neighbour drumming to Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, whilst Blade Runner towers from a 50” 3D TV upstairs and an angel on a morphine drip serenades you from behind a cardboard box in the hallway. Well, almost.
“We Want Our Things”, meanwhile, appears on the radar with a tip o’ the helmet to Close Encounters of the Third Kind visitor’s riff. Watch the skies, bright lights from darkness. It soon blooms into a Black Cherry-era Goldfrapp rush of narcotic space pop. Big-ass bass sounds bounce into blind flashes of warm analogue synths. It’s sparklingly pretty, but, like much of Nite Jewel’s music, it shelters something slightly sad, lonely, and drifting. Often Am I Real? approaches like some apocalyptic alien Nostradamus signaling trouble ahead. “The Future is made of white lies” warns “White Lies”. But like that other funky Martian, Prince—whose early handmade unicorns Nite Jewel often recalls—it’s glamorous ‘n heaven scented. Despite talk of “disturbing scenes,” “White Lies” sounds like the Violent Femmes’ “Blister in the Sun” played by Star Wars Cantina Band, fronted by a sisterhood of Joni Mitchell clones.
But if anything, Am I Real? showcases Gonzalez’s emerging confidence as songwriter. Take “Forget You & I”, a hyperballad in equal measures Kraftwerk, Roxy Music, and TLC. It’s a proper pop song, albeit one dressed in spooky threads and what sounds like an asthmatic tin man panting for a rhythm track. Its lift-off chorus is quietly exhilarating and you even get to grasp some of the lyrics: “Oh the world is fucked again / And here I am crying over you / How shallow can I be?” People of Earth, witness the humanising of Nite Jewel! Tonight, in every home a heartache! The titular closer contemplates an existentialist crisis through a block party kaleidoscope of Rickie Lee Jones and George Benson. “How did it get so wrong with me? / What can I say for myself? / Am I Real?,” Gonzalez ponders like some sugar rushin’ Sartre chewing Bubbalicious astride a beat-up boombox and a crate of Berry Rain Gatorade. “The scenery don’t look that good to me,” she concludes before spiralling into a K-hole mantra “Am I real?? / Am I real?” Well, like Blanche Dubois, I don’t want realism, I want magic! Yes, magic! Please planet Nite Jewel, keep it unreal.
Now having descended back onto planet Earth once again (yup, still raining), I am relieved to confirm Am I Real? only enriches the memory. It’s a familiarly uncommon space oddity, rich and strange, music fashioned with liberated child-like elegance edged by a hint of emerging wicked darkness. Ah, and the colours, such beautiful colours. It grips like the comforting woozy wonder of heavy sedation and long may Nite Jewel’s medicine cabinet remain packed to the rafters. OK, Am I Real? may not deepen the mystery or reveal many new secrets. But hey, it’s early days and, wow, will you just look at that view? Being a mere EP, just don’t expect the full Good Evening tour, since this is more a breezy, rollerskatin’, “Hey, remember me?” driveby. I’ve merely time to wave back, “Y’all come back now, you hear…and stay weird!”. Treasure this jewel earthlings. Oh, I was dreaming when I wrote this, so forgive me if it goes astray.