A trend of the past few years has been the appropriation of RnB sounds and aesthetics by artists who would normally be considered ‘alternative’. Some of these artists are of a distinctly lo-fi tendency, with many of them also prone to avant diversions. American bands like Yeasayer and Dirty Projectors have been at the forefront of this trend. One Second Of Love by LA pop experimentalist Nite Jewel runs along this vein.
Nite Jewel is the moniker of Californian Ramona Gonzalez, initially working on her own before teaming up with her partner and collaborator Cole M Grieff-Neill, formerly of Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti. Gonzalez has cultivated an aura of mystery around her dark electro pop sound. Gonzalez’s first album as Nite Jewel, 2009’s Good Evening, was a bewitching collection of dark pop that, while sonically interesting, revealed little about Gonzalez. One Second Of Love strips away that curtain of mystery and is an album of further developed songwriting that introduces a more human and emotional side to Nite Jewel.
The sound of One Second Of Love can best be described as austere RnB. The tracks are mostly stark, coloured by icy synths and simple drum machine beats. In the press release for the album, Gonzalez cites the oblique sounds of German ambient electronic group Cluster alongside the peerless RnB pop of TLC. That contrast dominates the album, the juxtaposition of groove and swing with starkness and sterility.
Opening track This Story is a grand and ponderous electro ballad that introduces the emotional themes of the album. Gonzalez’s voice is tinged with heartache as she delivers lines like “I’m a broken record you have heard this before” and “I’ve invisible to you”. The song does unfortunately slip into an overpowering overwroughtness and this tendency to ramp up the dramatics grates slightly as the record progresses.
The bouncy synth pop of the title track is far more appealing. The track effortlessly flies by with Gonzalez resembling a cross between Elly Jackson of La Roux and Zola Jesus. That progressive pop sound is continued on the stuttering, off-beat groove of She’s Always Watching You, a sassy and sultry RnB track that exemplifies all the best things about the album.
It is a shame that after the promising upbeat electro imbued tracks the album slips into an uninspiring comfort zone of emotive but ever so slightly bland electro ballads. In The Dark is icy but unremarkable and Memory Man drifts by uneventfully. The album finds its feet again only when Gonzalez marries her developing song writing skills with her innovative nature. No I Don’t is an intriguing example. Gonzalez’s vocal is wispy and enchanting as all manner of squelches and sounds envelop her voice. This is futuristic and hypnotic RnB at its best. The next track Autograph is more traditional but arguably even better. A simple bass groove provides a moment of rare genuine warmth with Gonzalez’s vocals at her most soulful. It is a lovely lilting soul ballad that shows Nite Jewel can make simple, direct but tremendously effective RnB pop when she ramps back some of the histrionics. You can really hear the TLC influence here.
One Second Of Love is an album that attempts to do something different. The more overt RnB pop sound coupled with those avant influences has resulted in a work that is frequently very special while often also seeming conflicted. Nite Jewel has blossomed into a something not too far removed from a genuine pop star. Yet you feel One Second Of Love is a promising step forward rather than the finished article.