Another day, another release from a talented female artist with an enchanting voice. Ramona Gonzalez, not unlike the women of Beach House, Grouper, Grimes, and Little Scream, makes music that is striking and completely her own. Her first LP, Good Evening, was a lo-fi experiment in what glam pop sounds like when recorded in a bedroom on a decrepit eight-track. It was intriguing, sure, but it was a record that I wrote off as “interesting” rather than something I found myself returning to. With her new LP, One Second of Love, Gonzalez has taken all the promise of her early work and turned it into a fresh and fascinating record.
From the first note it’s clear that the Nite Jewel sound has been tweaked considerably. Gonzalez’s voice is front and center, crooning like Bowie over shimmering synths and reverb-heavy snare hits. “This Story” is a slow-burner that does well in terms of setting the tone but, having heard Enter The Void, it left me wondering if Gonzalez had abandoned her more groovy tendencies. “One Second of Love” put those questions to rest. A melding of her electro-pop and funk sensibilities, the eponymous track is slick and ominous. The sound has become more polished but, instead of obscuring Gonzalez’s raw emotion, it makes it all the more distinctive.
Almost every song on One Second of Love brings to mind a new inspiration. “She’s Always Watching You” has hints of bright 80’s synth-pop; “Mind & Eyes” sounds like Ariel Pink tried to write a Fleetwood Mac song; and “No I Don’t” uses sparse drum hits and gargling synths to great effect, not unlike some strands of UK bass music. As varied as the sound is, Gonzalez’s lovely voice is a constant. As is the excellent production, most of which was provided by Cole M. Greif-Neill (Gonzales’s husband and member of The Samps).
While I welcome some of the more delicate songwriting on this album, Enter the Void’s strangely alluring danceability is arguably Nite Jewel’s strong point. In that vein, “Autograph” is a straight up funk jam. The fact that Gonzalez has done work with Dam Funk (which, incidentally, is awesome) is made clear, as her spunky voice bounces in and out of a particularly groovy bass line. This is a baby making funk sung by someone who actually can make babies, which, as far as I am concerned, is far too rare. Alas, the foray into funk cannot last forever as the final two tracks delve into quiet and emotionally resonant territory.
Nite Jewel’s breadth in terms of songwriting is refreshing but it also makes for some jarring transitions. Gonzalez seems to want to explore every impulse she has; as excellent as those impulses are, this approach does not make for a completely cohesive listen. One Second Of Love is bursting with ideas, some better than others, and could have benefited from a more focused approach.
The album closer, “Sister”, ends just as abruptly as the album began. Whether by design or not, this leaves the impression that the listener has just spent the last forty minutes inadvertently stumbling across the strange inner workings of Gonzalez’s mind only to be shoved out the other end with few questions answered. It may not be a perfect record (some tracks drag or feel overly grandiose) but it is undoubtedly an affecting one. Gonzalez puts faith in her songwriting and does not shy away from making her songs as personal as possible. Even if you don’t have a penchant for lilting female vocals and analog synth lines, that is certainly something to admire.