Rating: 3.5/5Nite Jewel’s One Second of Love is very much a 2012 record, if you follow a trendy kind of algebra: an artist in her mid-20s hearkening back to slick pop of the late ‘80s and R&B grooves of the early ‘90s, don’t forget to carry the 8-track and then adjust the result with a production exponent (something represented by a negative integer in her 2009 debut, Good Evening). Ramona Gonzalez, the woman behind the moniker Nite Jewel, almost has me reaching back (far back) into the recesses of my closet to pull out a boxy, oversized blazer reminiscent of Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, but that’s not quite right, just a temporary (and beloved) reflex. Although “Autograph” definitely has the hallmarks of a pleasing mid-tempo jam that might’ve charted 25 years ago with its kicky bass line and daft-by-design lyrics (“I’ve got your autograph/ It is on my heart”) – it sounds like the kind of song that plays on the “favorite hits” radio station every waiting room is tuned to – the impression left by One Second of Love does not bear out to be a tribute of post-ironic recycling or genre trampling. Collaborating here with her husband Cole M. Greif-Neill (of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti) and Dâm-Funk, Nite Jewel acknowledges her influences and in the next breath overwrites them.
The elements of retrofit work so well for Nite Jewel because they are invoked without kitsch, they’re not overtly commercial. The backbeat rim clicks, underpinned cabasa rhythms and prettily traveled melody of “In the Dark” – a nightclub croon swooping from soprano to dusky contralto – suggest Sade without calling her by name. Mainly, it is that minimalist combination of MTV-vid synth settings and processed drum machine patterns that dial up the era-specific association. “I’m a broken record/ You have heard this before,” are the first words of this album, and while that might be meant partly as a self-reflexive creative acknowledgement, it anticipates a criticism that is cursory at best. One Second of Love is assembled with an ever so slight attraction to oddity: a couple measures of percussion drag come to a sudden, meteorological rumble in the otherwise languid “This Story”; moony synth bends spill over in “Unearthly Delights” as a rarely deployed guitar plucks in unison with Gonzalez’s vocal phrase.
Though the upbeat tracks – “One Second of Love” and “She’s Always Watching You” – represent the off-kilter pop songs that Nite Jewel is capable of, it’s the darker selections at the back end that exhibit her high art appeal. “No I Don’t” has her in sticky, squelchy, electronic territory as singing frequencies are negotiated by precise zaps and twitches. The drum machine hitches up in a two beat interruption, restabilized by eighth note sequences of typewriter clacks. This motif may well be a sample from her work as an installation artist and philosopher-in-residence: in “The Question Concerning Technology,” Gonzalez recorded the sounds of a typewriter as it was dismantled piece by piece, responding to the Heideggerian tension between the functionality and ontology of technology. A less academic satisfaction is found in the arching loveliness of Gonzalez’s voice as it radiates in the soft landing of closer “Clive.” Perhaps the most affecting moment on the record is when she swan dives with confident grace into the lowest limits of her range, cushioned by a wispy chorus of “ahhs” from high and married at the conclusion with a buzzy, electrostatic oscillation.
One Second of Love itself might best answer that question concerning technology. Implementing a hi-fi aesthetic, Nite Jewel neither abuses the tools of production nor does she allow the production to supersede her vision. Embracing the concept of craftsmanship, Gonzalez utilizes technology to sponsor her art into realization. Heady stuff for sure, but present in the success of its minimalist resonance.