nite jewel // one second of love
by zachary foote
L.A.’s Nite Jewel, née Ramona Gonzalez, occupies an odd aesthetic intersection within the independent music sphere. Less scrupulous journalists are quick to latch onto the vague idea of “eighties revival” for quick ways to describe her music and music like hers (read: synthpop “with a twist”). Identifying that “twist” is hard to do, but it is essential. More often than not, their emphasis on the novelty of anachronistic keyboard lines and heavy reverb feels inadequate. Gonzalez’s stylistic choices are less manipulative than they are deeply felt, nerdy, a bit uncool. Much of the music she invokes stems from a palpable personal history – childhood, adolescence, her discoveries as a musician. Like her contemporaries/collaborators Ariel Pink and Dâm-Funk, she knows that the substance of “twists” helps differentiate timeless pop music from flavors of the week.
“I’m a broken record/you have heard this before,” Nite Jewel warns on “This Story,” the opening track. And yes, we have: pick up tattered copies of Human League’s Dare, OMD’s self-titled, Pet Shop Boys’ Introspective, Information Society’s Creatures of Influence, Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle, or even Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle” single (but play it at 33) from the reduced bin for a few easy, somewhat stilted cross-references. All of the records above come with at least little bit of zeitgeist baggage – the stigma of being firmly nestled within a certain time and place. Yet all of those artists are presently making music, enjoying more-or-less continued success on the strength of their reputations. What is it about their music that lends them an inscrutible longevity? Part of it may be thanks to the high estimation of the source material that flows from “revivals” themselves. Revivals often see artists shy away from presenting prolepses with slabs of irony (Ween, anyone?) and toward tendering them with deadly sincerity. In other words, irreverence is out, reverence in.
Nite Jewel’s recognizable canvas of self-assured, austere electro affects the whole of One Second of Love, an extension and expansion of the ideas presented on her lower-fidelity 2008 LP Good Evening. That record seemed to compress Gonzalez’s voice and digitalized rhythms onto a slightly warped cassette master. Love is more direct, intelligible. The title track, a lament about the transience and exploitability of beauty and appeal, couples well with the album’s cover – a high-contrast, monochrome photo of Gonzalez breaking the fourth wall with an uncomfortable stare. (Good Evening’s naturel cover, by contrast, looks like a grainy Kodacolor, a candid picture taken right before an actual photo shoot.) Love’s confrontation seems to pose any number of anticipatory, unworded questions regarding the necessities and vulnerabilities of image manufacturing in the context of “success.” This record will doubtless grant Gonzalez greater visibility in the months to come, but to what end? What does hype do but expedite the idea of music-as-trend? And how, exactly, does one transcend that trap?
Thankfully, Gonzalez has the wisdom to anticipate the lure of the new “indie” marketing bent, and she both embraces and sidesteps it. She tests the waters with her new personnel and equipment, jumping styles at will. The structure and circumstances of One Second of Love resembles Ariel Pink’s debut on 4AD, Before Today. (It’s no accident – her husband, Cole Greif-Neill, co-wrote Pink’s “Fright Night” single.) For every “Autograph,” a fairly straightforward Janetesque devotional track, there’s a negation like “No I Don’t,” which distantly echoes Portishead and Autechre (the latter of which Gonzalez cites as a recent influence). Shuffler and shimmerer “Memory Man” leans up against the plaintive “Unearthly Delights,” the only prominently acoustic track. The compassionate and affectionate sendoff, “Sister,” introduces clever elements and then takes them away in ways that would make both Arthur Russell and Laurie Anderson proud.
One Second of Love’s reliance on small musical guideposts may be both a strength and a weakness. As Gonzalez familiarizes herself with the higher budgets and capabilities that her new label Secretly Canadian offers, she presents the familiar as a tool to evoke emotional response. In the process, she sacrifices some of the ethereality and strangeness that made Good Evening such a compelling record. Otherwise, the transition seems more or less seamless. It will be exciting to see where Nite Jewel goes next once Gonzalez has settled into her new skin.
favorite tracks // "one second of love," "sister," "in the dark"
Listen to more from Nite Jewel now, via Spotify.