Ramona Gonzalez commands a lucidly ironed voice, and her pitch goes without wrinkles and swells solemnly enough to inflate a cathedral. It’s fitting, then, that Gonzalez began recording songs in 2008. She decided to do this under the guise of Nite Jewel.
Based in Los Angeles, she works mainly with husband and producer Cole M. Greif-Neill, who she describes as “the other quarter or third of Nite Jewel.”
Gonzalez marks her territory with her latest album One Second of Love, which was released under Indiana-based label Secretly Canadian. The label hosts a roster of youthful acts that include Yeasayer and Gardens & Villa. Using warm, lo-fi electronic grooves that would find appropriate settings on a warm summer night inside a big pair of headphones, Gonzalez has arrived.
“My dad was into Gloria Estefan, Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, just all the greats. Later I got really into ’90s girl groups like TLC, SWV and Aaliyah,” Gonzalez said. “Aaliyah became really big for me because she was sort of an anti-pop star pop star. She was really mellow in her vocal delivery. I think I drew a lot of that mellow vocal delivery style on my first record from her.”
Absorbing the talents of influential girl groups made its way into her music and her dreams.
“I’ve always wanted to be in some other life like a professional singer/diva from the ’80s or ’90s just belting at the Grammys,” Gonzalez said.
To record One Second of Love, Nite Jewel’s follow-up to her debut release Good Evening in 2009, Gonzalez was able to work in a professional recording studio for the first time since college. The results are evident and only add testament to her previous releases, which she recorded herself with an 8-track machine.
The title track, “One Second of Love,” arrives with an energy that evokes being stranded on a treadmill. The groove is fuzzy and aerobic as Gonzalez strides over a croaking bass line. Gonzalez slaps dimension to her voice with backing vocals that stick to her like a shadow. To describe the song is complicated, but to appreciate it is simple, as is the central question Gonzalez asks, “Who has one second of love?”
Several songs pour forward with tranquil intent, including the final track on the album, “Clive.” “Clive” is built out of sustained chords and upper register vocals from Gonzalez combining to buoy the listener atop a seraphic ocean of sound. Other tracks that produce a similar effect are “No I Don’t,” “Unearthly Delights” and the opening track, “This Story,” although “Clive” feels the most distilled.
“One Second of Love seems post-bubble-burst. It’s a record about what happens during the downward slope into questioning everything that you knew before,” Gonzalez said. “There is a lot of questioning of society and culture but also questioning of one’s relationships.”
Gonzalez is well-practiced in sifting emotion from inquiry. Her reincarnation as Nite Jewel is an extension of her studies in philosophy at Occidental College. A sharp sense of analytic judgment lines her music and is something she recognizes as vital to her approach.
“Judgment is very useful for the artistic process because you are not just taking things for what they are. It helps you to create more layers of meaning in a song,” Gonzalez said. “It also goes for being in academia. With a sense of judgment that is really attuned, you can take it in multiple directions: You can write a song about it, you can do a painting about it. I think that analytical process is very useful for a lot of things.”
Gonzalez’s practice of judgment to create music is something that appears to manifest itself in every aspect of her life.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from social energy, especially at parties,” Gonzalez said.
Throughout the record, there exists a dialogue between Gonzalez and a jarring presence that seems to haunt her. You get the sense that Gonzalez isn’t talking to an audience — instead, her observant lyrics suggest that she has a particular person in mind. Though the chances are highly unlikely, the listener still oddly gets the sense that that very person is himself.