An exploration of torment, discovery and release
Behind the Nite Jewel moniker is a singer-songwriter named Ramona Gonzalez, but there are still many other facets of the artist to acknowledge. She also boasts the recording aplomb of a master producer, the heart of a dreamer schooled in electro-pop and a passion for genre-bending that’s anything but ordinary. Her first album in four years, No Sun, was crafted during a tumultuous period in her life, from the breakdown of her marriage to her relentless pursuit of a Ph.D. in Musicology.
A steady, stripped-down beat kicks off the album on “Anymore,” marching across the ears as Gonzalez’s ethereal voice pierces through. Soon after, people hear a deep, magnetic synth, acting as a sliver of hope that might lift Gonzales from the feelings of loneliness she sings about. The balance of synth and voice shifts throughout the song, a battle between intrusive thoughts and embracing independence. “I wonder if I took over your life/ Because it seems you took over mine,” she sings like she’s unsure about moving on. But the next lyric, “There’s no use now to cry/ You have yours, and I have mine,” indicates that she knows it’s time.
Lightly played and exact, the first chords of “Show Me What You’re Made Of” exist in heavenly registers. Deep pulses engage with those high-register twinkles, two opposites, musically matching the lyrics of a couple fighting. Gonzalez sings about losing her sense of identity in a relationship and being consumed by the intensity of her partner. But the song gradually transitions into something more upbeat, with syncopated drums and jazzier music. Gonzalez’s voice grows closer as she chants, “show me what you’re made of,” while layered harmonies culminate around her words.
“To Feel It” contains some of the stickiest vocals on the entire record, as animated as a trumpet solo. Gonzalez describes her re-discovering of independence and the joy it brings. An eight-bit synth sound takes over, quickly making this one of the most upbeat songs of the album.
The instrumental track, “#14,” is slow and bleak, more like a soundscape than a song. Saxophones cast shadows onto cave walls while a delicate synth twinkles, supported by deep violins. It’s produced so that it feels like you’re listening from the back of the concert hall, sounding like a distant memory or an eerie dream.
“This Time” is the lushest track, evoking Animal Collective as a synth pushes the song along a variety of samples, from gritty and electric to light and bubbly, until a buzzing electric guitar finally gets its time in the sun. Gonzalez’s synthwave cover of Sun Ra’s “When There Is No Sun” presents a darker take on the jazzy original. Staying true to the framework of the other, the same chords remain, but the instrumentation is replaced by rich, throbbing synths.
With minimalist synths, modern pop sounds, poetic lyrics and jazz usages laced throughout, No Sun is a record that feels whole and full of personality. It’s a grown-up record for Nite Jewel, and after years of experimentation since her 2008 debut, it’s clear that she finally knows what she wants.