Ramona Gonzalez seems to have two main loves: pop-inflected R&B music and quirky synth sounds.
Judging from the prevailing aesthetic powering her newest set of songs, Ramona Gonzalez seems to have two main loves: pop-inflected R&B music and quirky synth sounds. Her latest project released as Nite Jewel, Real High, is arguably her best, due in no small part to how well she’s able to bridge the gap between those twin preoccupations. With some assistance from collaborators like Dâm-Funk and Droop-E, she spends the album’s 11 tracks fine-tuning variations on this theme of sci-fi-sounding, quiet storm radio jams—breathy, glittering little numbers, each begging to be mainlined through a pair of earbuds on a late-night bus ride.
On songs like “Had to Let Me Go,” she’s explicitly channeling ‘90s era Janet Jackson with those come-hither vocals and airy introspection, filling the space between bloops and bleeps with stirring, soul soothing conversations with a former lover. “I Don’t Know” is a bubblegum daydream draped in the beguiling warmth of Gonzalez turning inward and reminiscing, but coming up short on answers. Likewise, “Part of Me” mines similar territory, finding her trying to repossess the sliver of herself she laments giving away so easily.
Real High’s general vibe calls to mind both the recent work of FKA twigs and Jessie Ware’s debut LP, but Gonzalez isn’t quite as out there as twigs, nor does she possess Ware’s dramatic flair for balladry. Instead, she presents a charming idiosyncrasy, an insular singer-songwriter’s eye for self-examination. But instead of mere plaintive piano craft or the standard strum of an acoustic guitar, Gonzalez employs a bedroom tinkerer’s penchant for lo-fi electronica to dazzling effect. The result is a collection of songs that function just as well as low-stakes dancefloor fodder as they do dear-diary missives to close out a mixtape for your crush.
If the album has a failing, it’s that the songs blend into one another a little too well. It’s not quite monotonous, but at times Real High begins to feel like an overlong EP. Because every cut operates on such a similar wavelength, it’s difficult to say what could be excised to make improvements. There are no notable clunkers, though closing track “R We Talking Long,” with its call-and-response duet structure, is something of an outlier. It delves deeper into the atmospherics, reminiscent of Timbaland’s noteworthy work with Aaliyah, thus making it feel a touch more modern than the other vaguely nostalgia-prone tracks. But it’s never bloated, less a cup running over than a cool glass dripping condensation.
All told, it’s a smooth listening experience that’ll only win you over more with repeat plays and the striking of the right mood, but perhaps Real High’s finest moment is “2 Good 2 Be True,” not coincidentally the first song released to promote the album. It’s the perfect synthesis of Gonzalez’ breezy pop songcraft and the head-nodding grooves that drive the whole project. It’s an effervescent little wisp of a song, but one that’ll occupy space in your mind’s hard drive well after you’re finished with the rest of the album.