As much as some critics might claim otherwise, the truth is that making electronic music with an organic pulse isn’t easy – that is, unless you’re Ronin, who flexes some serious sonic muscle in his new single “Chemical Smiles.” In this beat-laden extravaganza, music and lyrics carry the same weight in evocativeness, and while the rhythm is the main focus in the master mix, there’s a natural, openly accessible lyricism to pin everything together in a cosmopolitan patchwork of poetry. Ronin goes all-in on a funky groove in this track, and rewards anyone within earshot with a wealth of melodic magic.
I’m loving these booming synth parts in the chorus – where a lot of similarly stylized songs have been utilizing a colder, artificial-sounding texture when mixing their synthesizers, Ronin does the exact opposite here (and, subsequently, sounds like a credible, innovative genius for doing so). The grooves are studded with the synth’s colorful melodies, and I really think that the entire song becomes a stadium-shaking anthem because of the contribution that they make alongside the bassline. It’s a different way of making club music for sure, and possibly one that could invite more traditional R&B fans into the genre as well.
Ronin’s agility in the delivery of his words is extraordinary, but nothing about “Chemical Smiles” feels rushed, forced or thrown-together. You don’t have to be an expert in recording or songwriting to recognize the stacked layers within the structure of the mix, and I think it’s pretty clear that the same amount of time and attention went into perfecting the vocal track as well. It would truly shock me if Ronin recorded this in less than a dozen takes, because everything feels too obsessively arranged and particularly well-synchronized for me to think that this was completed in such a short amount of time.
There’s never a point in “Chemical Smiles” where I hear the instruments getting crowded or being forced to vie for our affections in some overpoweringly clouded mashup of melodies, and I credit the producers for keeping the song as streamlined and cohesive as they did. The substance here is sublimely surreal, but I like that Ronin doesn’t rely on a bunch of psychedelic breakdowns or druggy spoken word diatribes to make us feel engaged and involved with the exotic collection of tones. I’m sure he could take it a step further if he wanted to make something a bit more avant-garde, but this current sound is definitely one that I can imagine being very lucrative for him on the mainstream urban pop circuit.
If this single is a taste of what’s to come next, Ronin is in for a very long and accomplished career in pop music, which isn’t something that I am able to say about most of the artists that make their way to my desk. What makes this young man such a vibrant, memorable vocalist isn’t necessarily his dynamic range or even his originality as a lyricist; it’s rooted in his spirited execution, which presents us with just as many emotional daggers as the words he sings do. “Chemical Smiles” is truly brilliant stuff, and I give it a genuine stamp of approval.