Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The year's lost gems 1: Nite Jewel - Good Evening

First off, I suppose it’s fair to say that my 2009 has been marked by total immersion in bass culture – theorising, dancing like a loon and writing about it afterwards: the lot. The upshot of this is the feeling that I’ve got some handle on the rapidly changing landscapes of UK-centric bass music. Its downside is the feeling that I’ve completely missed out on a large number of records, those ones that seem to have drifted past with minimal fanfare from either mainstream or indie press. With this in mind, December (with its tendency for few new record releases) presents a pretty decent catch-up opportunity. Recommendations on a postcard to the usual address.

Nite Jewel’s Good Evening, released on No Pain In Pop back in August, deals me a tiny pang of irritation at each listen, uncomfortable in the knowledge that I could have discovered this so much earlier. Loosely, its self-consciously lo-fi atmosphere and the delicately woven strands of free-association that make up each song’s narrative drive could fit neatly within the Wire’s incredibly smug ‘hypnagogic pop’ genre boundaries (or ‘glo-fi’, or whatever the latest term happens to be). Certainly all the elements are present and correct; primarily a curious sense of disconnection between music and listener, as though each song is emerging fully-formed from a separate temporal and spatial zone. Yet sticking a blanket term around a group of artists inevitably serves to set up invisible barriers, and there’s far more that attracts me to Ramona Gonzales’ music than to, say, Ariel Pink’s.

I’m sure most people remember times when the indistinct notes of a tune you recognise drift from someone else’s stereo, and you’re so sure you know what it is that your brain starts ‘hearing’ the vocals from the song in question. It doesn’t even matter if it’s not the song you thought it was – the mind is a powerful convincing tool. It’s an odd phenomenon, and one I can’t imagine has been given any ‘proper’ name as I’m not convinced there’s anything remotely tangible or scientific to it.

Anyway, on Good Evening Gonzales’ half-mumbled, half-sung vocals are buried so deep in a wash of hash fuzz that they sound more like half-recalled memories, an artificial, listen-too-hard-and-you’ll-miss-them construct of the imagination. As far as these ears are concerned it’s a major part of the record’s appeal, generating a kind of slightly wonky, off-key nostalgia that reaches its pinnacle on ‘Heart Won’t Start’. Like the entire history of indie/dance deconstructed and stripped bare to its basest components – addictive drumbeat, meaningful/less vocal slurs and blunted synth shimmer – it sounds a little like the early Factory bands might have, had they grown up in a sixties US hippie commune instead of the grey concrete jungle around seventies Manchester. Either way, it’s gorgeous and has barely left my stereo since I got hold of it.

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