One Second of Love is a very pretty album. Unfortunately, it’s not always an especially engaging one. Ramona Gonzalez, the brains behind Nite Jewel along with producer-husband Cole M.G.N., has been futzing around the Los Angeles synth scene for a while now as a maker of subtly seductive lo-fi pop music. Her sophomore album represents a break from that norm as her music is injected with a healthy dose of fidelity and minimalist dynamics, more purposely assigning boundaries between her vocals and the music that joins them. For about half the album everything about this shift works for the better. With an elephantine low end and small symphony of atmospheric keyboard lines each as catchy as the next, “One Second to Love” is every bit as hooky as her best previous works while feeling much livelier and ready for the dance floors her music has always hinted at. Building on 2011’s simple and effective single “It Goes Through Your Head” and her collaborations with the modern era’s king of 80s style funk Dam-Funk, it’s a track that just feels good to listen to. Visions of prime-era female Prince protégés dance through it and “She’s Always Watching You”. She perfectly captures what was so alluring about the original synth funk songstresses, her songs exploring dualities of physical desire and emotional reservation that just makes for sublime pop music.
This first-half run of sublime anxiousness come to a head with “In the Dark”, a track that takes all the best elements of a Nite Jewel song and amplifies them twice over. At this point in the album it’s hard to imagine Gonzalez could ever run out of fun melodies, intriguing lyrics, and troublingly subversive hooks. Which is what makes the following six songs such a disappointment, as she almost completely abandons her innate talent for pop music in favor of atmospheric slow jams and all-encompassing melancholy. While the songs remain lush and sonically attractive, stuff like “Sister” and “Autograph” (which, honestly, is a pretty strong song if you can tune out the concept) just doesn’t play to Gonzalez’ strengths. An album that initially felt like a bombardment of sugar rushes begins to drag more and more the further it gets from “In the Dark”, and it really feels like an entirely different artist is at the helm. Cleverness gives way to lackadaisical lyrics about heart autographs, somehow assuming if she just doesn’t say tattoo we won’t feel like we’ve heard that song too many times before. More often the words don’t seem to serve any purpose at all, drifting aimlessly through equally shiftless music.
Perhaps it’s telling that most of her output as Nite Jewel has been confined to the singles and EP formats, because the first five songs here feel like the beginning of one of the year’s great pop albums, while the second feels like a talented woman just tooling around for the sake of her own curiosity. The music is still, you know, good - there are definitely certain moods in which “Unearthly Delights” or “Clive” could seem like a couple of One Second to Love‘s great treasures. But those moods are probably wholly removed from the album itself, as heard in sequence they can’t help but feel a little like b-sides in the way Amnesiac couldn’t help but feel like KID A‘s little brother. I’d be all for arguing that One Second to Love is two really good EPs coupled together, and on those grounds it’s definitely worth a shot; it’s just more than a little difficult to get over how much fun is sucked out of the room as the album transitions from one half to the next. One Second of Love feels like Nite Jewel attempting something like a proof of arrival, but mostly it’s simply a high definition look at all of the strengths and weaknesses we already knew she had.