In one fell swoop, Ronin bottles all of his emotions into a singular vocal blast that initiates the start of “Chemical Smiles,” his debut single due out this June everywhere that independent music is sold and streamed. With this verse, he opens the floodgates on a wall of sound that will bear down on us like a stampeding band of horses and subsequently chase us towards the horizon in just under three and a half minutes of sterling sonic production. The rhythm is out of control, the synths are reckless and full of violent intensity, but there’s a supple, understated groove in the lead vocal that keeps us glued to our stereos, literally waiting for whatever croon-based carnage is going to come our way next.
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As we get into the verses, we find a little bounce in the beats that keeps us from being completely sucked asunder by the bass. The drums are dueling with the synths while Ronin finds his stride in the first stanza, and there’s an anxiousness in the juxtaposition between the two that is fascinating and hard to turn away from. We keep waiting for the tension to come undone, but even as the chorus swings into focus, there’s no relief in sight until Ronin catches up with the hook and levels the playing field with his sexy serenade. I might have mixed the bass just a tad lower than what he ultimately decided to go with, but the physical structure of the song is engrossing regardless.
The chorus, strangely, has less brutality to its finish than the lines that precede it do, but that’s partly what makes the slow-releasing catharsis all the more erogenous in tone. The refrain backs away from the fast-paced tempo of the hook that it descends from, but the energy never dissipates for a second. For a song that doesn’t even last four minutes in total length, “Chemical Smiles” feels deceptively long and drawn-out, and not in a negative way. It’s easy to lose yourself in its endless drone of bass and drum warring, and repeat listens are something that you should expect once you’ve given the chorus enough time to implant itself in your head.
Rather than fading to black, “Chemical Smiles” comes to a sudden stop that leaves our hearts pounding so feverishly that the desire to keep the dance party going often proves too strong to resist. There’s a lot to be said about what Ronin has designed in his debut, and hardcore music enthusiasts could spend a decent amount of time picking apart its every intricacy in search of a deeper lyrical meaning. Personally though, I’ll take it for the supersized, club-worshiping R&B jam that it is at its barebones. There really aren’t enough urban pop singers putting as much stock into the texture of their music as Ronin is here, but if this is to become a trend in his scene, I’m fairly certain that the next few years in indie R&B and melodic hip-hop are going to be some of the most engaging that we’ve heard since the early 1990s.