Nite Jewel's 2009 debut LP Good Evening felt like a homespun soundtrack from some imagined '80s movie. Its faded colors and bedroom murkiness fell somewhere between Arthur Russell's least completed disco sketches and the gauziest moments from Nite Jewel's own late-2000s contemporaries like Grouper or Panda Bear. The songcraft was strong, but the questionable recording fidelity obscured the record's strengths from some ears, earning tag-lines like "Mush-funk" and "Murk pop" from some critics. In the years that followed, Nite Jewel brainchild Ramona Gonzalez worked track by track, releasing mainly EPs and singles, and notably collaborating with L.A. producer and beat-sculptor Dam Funk. All of this led up to One Second of Love, a second record worlds away from Nite Jewel's out of focus beginnings, and easily the most produced thing she's done to date. The classic story of stepped-up production values stripping the charm from what was a magically quirky artist doesn't really apply here. The synths are vivid, beats booming, and most importantly, Gonzalez's voice is more distinct than ever before, breathing character and tension into the songs where before the vocals could easily be filed away in the catch-all "ethereal" bin. Especially on songs like the lovelorn synth pop title track or the bouncy "Memory, Man," confessional vocals with ten times less reverb give us the sense that these songs are actually about something, not just textural crowing from a disembodied ghost voice somewhere. One Second of Love's main issue is not one of sonic fidelity, but consistency. If the murk of earlier recordings hid some of Nite Jewel's intentions, they also succeeded in hiding slightly forced stylistic leanings. In moments of dark yet upbeat synth pop, Nite Jewel sounds inspired and provocative, occupying a space as disturbing as it is engaging. Likewise, Gonzalez's collaborations with Dam Funk have apparently influenced this record some, with more groove and fluidity on tracks like "She's Always Watching You" or the sophisti-pop syncopation of "Mind & Eyes" than anything that came before. However, these tracks are interspersed with drifty detours. The wobbly low-end synth of "No I Don't" represents the album's most experimental material, with an almost dubstep bedding rumbling beneath empty vocal clouds and jagged drum programming. None of the elements really come together as much as they hang out in some weird waiting room together for about four minutes. Gonzalez has long referenced '90s commercial R&B as an influence on her sound, and this comes into view on the summery funk of "Autograph," a song that could have been a TLC hit in an alternate reality. When juxtaposed with the Kate Bush-flavored drone of album closer "Clive," "Autograph" goes from a fun jaunt to sobering disjointed. While none of the songs on One Second of Love are lacking on their own, they take on an awkwardness in album form. It's not quite enough to make you miss the subaquatic murk of Good Evening, but it may suggest why Nite Jewel has always excelled in bite-sized increments.
AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas