2019 has been a really interesting and diverse year for pop music. From hip-hop to R&B, alternative rock and even experimentalists in ambient and avant-garde music, there’s a lot for discriminating audio buffs to be excited about at the moment, and in an ironic twist, underground upstart Ronin is releasing a song that incorporates shades of all of the aforementioned genres in “Chemical Smiles,” a radio-ready funker that comes to us soaked in adrenaline and capable of divvying out sonic destruction whenever it’s played. We start off with a heavenly vocal harmony from Ronin and slip straight into a grinding dance beat. We’re given two choices right off the bat; swing to the swanky rhythm, or sink under the weight of its mammoth bassline. In less than sixty seconds’ time, we’re transported to the center of a booming nightclub’s fiery main stage, where Ronin is captivating the crowd with his handsome crooning and controlling the movement of everyone in sight with the cadence of his words.

This track is, at its nuts and bolts, a funky fusion of punky dance pop and a more erudite ambient style that isn’t afraid to up the tempo every now and again. The punk elements come into play on the ascent towards the chorus, where Ronin lets his hair down and goes straight angst-ridden with his bittersweet serenade. The ambient foreplay that the bass dishes in the intro of the song is only the start of the cerebral backdrop’s evolution, which lasts the duration of the track and climaxes in a kaleidoscopic finish at the 3:15 mark. It’s an ambitious design, particularly for someone with as limited a profile in the mainstream as Ronin, but that’s precisely what makes it such a noteworthy release for this artist. He isn’t trying to please the indie stalwarts that would spend the better part of a year analyzing a drum pattern or a bassline’s black and white rhythm; he’s playing directly to the fans, making the dancing beats the crown jewel of his song, and refuting the very notion of replicating what his peers to the left and right of his sound are producing this summer.

Ronin is the new kid on the block right now, but he’s rolling like a seasoned professional with a decade’s worth of experience under his belt in “Chemical Smiles.” Whether you’re a student of the school of trap or a devoted follower of the new wave in alternative R&B, you’re going to find something to dig in this single, and I say that knowing full-well just how hard this generation of music fans is to please. What I like most about Ronin isn’t the way that he fashions his harmonic hybrids, or even how he approaches the recording process, but rather the means in which he stokes a reaction out of his listeners. It isn’t just the drums that are raising all of the hairs on the back of my neck when I listen to this song; it’s the vocal’s interactions with the beats, the bassline’s swift strut, and even the muscle-bound master mix itself. This is, without a doubt, a fearlessly engaging pop single that is more than worth your time this season.


Sebastian Cole