Past album covers for L.A.’s ’80s-revivalist Ramona Gonzalez, aka Nite Jewel, have featured the young singer alternately out of focus, looking off camera and amid an attack of narcolepsy. The sleeve of her
new LP marks a departure from those avoidant images with a smoky, head-on gaze. It looks like the part-waver, part-goth, part-glam songwriter is ready to prove something.
Thankfully, the songs too bespeak a confidence absent from Nite Jewel’s earlier work. Her previous forays in DIY R&B sounded like a chunk of Reagan-era radio forgotten in the pocket of a pair of tight jeans, washed and tumble-dried past legibility. Ditching cassette fidelity was an excellent move, as the synth arrangements here are lucid, intricate and solid as hell. The aesthetic is minimal: echoing drums and crisp bass beneath usually only one or two layers of ethereal keyboards. Her earlier recordings were simple as well but hidden within miasmas of hiss and reverb. This time, every instrument is boomingly present.
The whole thing is a very concerted effort, an artist trying to show she’s more than a bedroom dabbler, something closer to a songwriting diva. In that respect, Nite Jewel is very close to succeeding. At its best moments, the album reaches anthemic heights without feeling melodramatic (perhaps that’s the retro-thing doing its job). Her melodies are memorable but not cheaply catchy. The vocals are strong, but they do lack a bit of singularity, aping at turns a variety of ’80s songstresses and Beach House-style contralto. Nor do the romantic lyrics offer us much to chew on. And there are a few points in the middle where everything seems to lose a little steam, but the snaky, seductive bassline on penultimate “Autograph” has some seriously redemptive power.
One Second Of Love is a remarkably bold move for the young singer, and when it clicks, the results are irresistible: I’ve listened to “She’s Always Watching You” dozens of times already. Songs like that keep the album from feeling as ephemeral as its title suggests.