Her synth-heavy sound designs are straight out of the ‘80s and her alias, Nite Jewel, suggests the type of cartoon superheroine who might’ve punished evildoers on a show that aired between Jem and Transformers, but Ramona Gonzalez is undeniably a creature of indie-pop’s present. Between Chairlift’s Something, Grimes’s Visions, and Frankie Rose’s Interstellar, 2012 has already yielded a formidable triad of female-fronted pop albums that dwell, to greater or lesser extent, in the dreamy, synthetic environs of early synth-pop. Though her early recordings skewed toward lo-fi and lounge music, One Second of Love, with its heavily processed drums and cold synth tones, is definitely on trend. That’s not a bad thing: If pop music isn’t allowed to indulge our taste for the fleeting and faddish, then what is?
Besides, like each of the other artists mentioned above, Gonzalez is only using the sonic palette of the ‘80s as a jumping off point for a highly individualized project that’s not really all that interested in nostalgia or homage. Though songs like “One Second of Love” and “Memory Man” are clearly designed to evoke a specific era in pop history, they don’t sound overly influenced by any particular artist. What Gonzalez wants from the ‘80s is its slick futurism and high-gloss escapism. But her songs are unmistakably modern and personal. On the title track, she coolly dispenses understatements like “We talk all the time about our love,” which is ambiguous and insinuating because she could be referring to a having an argument, talking about sex, talking during sex, or any number of things that couples talk about. The song is slow-moving by radio’s Ritalin-techno-pop standards, but it builds momentum thanks to a sledgehammer beat that could’ve conceivably been sampled from either Trans-Europe Express or Bad. When it breaks into the chorus’s layered harmonies, it’s easy to imagine Gonzalez pouting from a motorcycle or boogying in a smoke-filled garage with a leather jacket on.
On that song, Gonzalez flirts with gimmickry by overcommitting to her retro poses in a way that would grow tedious over the course of an entire album (for those who couldn’t stomach Lana Del Rey, this was a big part of the problem). But on most of One Second of Love, she’s applying an ‘80s-influenced production to songs that don’t actually sound like they could or would have been on the radio during that decade. “No I Don’t” is the type of churning, beat-driven ballad that Björk specialized in during the late ‘90s, where Gonzalez’s vocals are accompanied by shifting sonic textures: Minor synth chords and belches of digital noise add dramatic shading to what otherwise sounds like a fabulously opulent hip-hop track. On “She’s Always Watching You,” which sounds a bit like Robyn covering Janet Jackson, a repurposed new-jack beat supports Gonzalez’s surprisingly convincing foray into R&B diva territory.
Gonzalez’s eclecticism is one of her greatest resources, but her strength is crafting structured, high-contrast pop. When she tries to make something warm, the results are dated sophisti-pop numbers like “In the Dark” and the garish, loungey “Autograph,” a disaster that sounds uncomfortably like “Dick in a Box” as conceived by Roxy Music. It’s not just that the musical touchstones are dubious; the heavy-handed production makes what should be the breeziest numbers on the album feel labored. It’s a deficiency common to songwriters whose approach to pop is highly intellectual. Like Kate Bush or Madonna, the great female pop stars of her preferred decade, Gonzalez is more fun when she’s trying to be challenging than when she’s trying to be fun.