Nowadays perhaps more than ever before, there is no single way to make a name for oneself in the music industry. While it used to be true that new artists had to get a record deal to gain traction, now anyone can post their work online and build a fan base. For pianist and producer Ronald Jenkees, he has used his YouTube channel and significant natural musical talent to build an online following, which has led to the release of his recent album Rhodes Deep. The largely instrumental offering dives into the mind of Jenkees with pumping beats, screaming synths, and cinematic sensibilities.
The title track comes first and gives a fairly accurate representation of Jenkees’ musical style. In the song, he blends acoustic-sounding elements, most notably an acoustic bass sound, with electronic sounds in a way that could easily work for a show’s theme song. It’s easy to see why the sports personality Bill Simmons chose an old Jenkees track for his podcast intro. “Rhodes Deep” also showcases Jenkees’ skilled layering techniques, with several varying elements coexisting peacefully in the mix.
Even though Jenkees claims to be almost wholly self-taught in music, he shows serious talent, not only in his own capacity on the keys, but in composition as well. Songs like “Expensive Ice Chill Cuts Deluxe” exhibit healthy grooves as well as creative uses of chord changes to evoke different moods.
The lone vocal track is “So Alive,” and despite its limited lyrical content, the song gives no hint that Jenkees is known more for his instrumental work. Set against a punchy synth line, the doubled vocal line chants, “Stuck in here/ but I feel so alive.” The phrase is repeated throughout the song, with a few other lines that are difficult to understand. “So Alive” draws attention to the fact that very few songs on Rhodes Deep have standout hooks that would make them more memorable. He usually opts instead for a more textural approach to songwriting, which allows for exhibition of great skills but can prevent songs from sticking in the audience’s mind after listening.
There is an ever so slight lull in energy toward the latter part of Rhodes Deep but it is swiftly swept away with the aggressive synth bass lines to open “Try the Bass.” When the beat drops, we’re introduced to a new kind of groove that keeps things fresh with the chiptune-like melodies flying over the top. Jenkees keeps the pedal to the metal with the album closer “Aquatic Jambiance,” which has a groove with slight hints of Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. The driving song seems to crave vocals of some kind, but offers enough to keep listeners intrigued and the energy level high.
Although the lack of hooks and lengthy run times on some of the tracks on Rhodes Deep may create some listener fatigue, Jenkees puts forth plenty of interesting content to keep audiences engaged. His skills in production, layering, composition, allusions to cinema and video games, all make for inspired moments throughout the album and help to explain why he has become so beloved in the Internet community. And these days, a large online fan base and skills to boot is more than enough to make it in the music community as well.
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