In this age of sophisticated mixing software and synthesizers with over a thousand different pre-programmed beats and sounds, it may seem like any idiot can go out and create electronic music tracks. But electronic music is deceptively tricky—to produce a really memorable track requires a balancing act between the formulas upon which any dance-oriented music depends, and an ability to infuse all those squelching synths and repetitive beats with enough personality to create something new. And the fact that, more and more, there are a lot of idiots out there producing cookie-cutter tracks, makes it even tougher to make music that rises above all the well-worn formulas.
Los Angeles’ Chris Simental, a.k.a. SIM_01, is no idiot—his debut CD of original material, Radiophonic Oddity, is intricately produced and chock full of interesting sounds ranging from techno to ambient to breakbeat and drum-and-bass. But despite his obvious aspirations toward musical innovation—“Whether it is the ever-shifting and evolving style of his songwriting,” his website declares, “or the challenge to open yourself up to new experiences musically, SIM_01 communicates directly to you without the words getting in the way”—SIM_01 really doesn’t break any new ground here. He cites artists like Beck, Moby and Crystal Method as influences, and they’re fine sources of inspiration all, but imitating an experimental artist does not make you experimental. In fact, derivative experimentation may be the worst sin of all, and it crops up a lot on Radiophonic Oddity—the Crystal Method-style acid breaks on the opening track “Twilight”, the Mobyesque blues singer samples on “Mentor”, the sparse William Orbit soundscape of “Metro Morning”. None of these tracks are bad per se—in fact, “Twilight”, with its dense trance-style synths and melodramatic samples from the old Twilight Zone TV show, would probably sound great in a club setting—but they’re just nothing we haven’t heard before.
Of more interest are SIM_01’s forays into drum-and-bass and down-tempo. The elegaic “Bring Me” is one of those rare tracks that makes good use of a vocoder, and its mix of oscillating synths and sparse piano fills is nicely reminscent of Jazzanova or LTJ Bukem in chillout mode. “Noontime” has more of a conventional jittery drum and bass sound, but SIM_01’s harsh, fat synthesizer riffs push the song more into techno territory and make it the disc’s most original track. And “Against the Wall” also has an ear-catchingly-distinctive sound, with showers of percussive bass synths, although SIM_01 doesn’t really seem to find anywhere to go with it.
SIM_01 clearly has some talent, but he’s got a long way to go before he can outgrow wearing his influences on his sleeve and create an original, consistent sound of his own. And doing that, like I said, is deceptively tricky—as I’m sure SIM_01 knows.