Simon Safhalter – One Level Deeper Than The Rest
Simon Safhalter – One Level Deeper Than The Rest – Album Review
A musical shape-shifter, he most certainly is.
By Simon’s own admission on his social media pages, he’s basically creating all kinds of tunes that range from “pop, rap, punk, rock, j-rock, electronic, anime, video game and film music.” Did he leave anything out? Smooth Jazz? Death Metal? You get the point…he’s practically covering the map as far as diversity in sound is concerned, and pushing play on his new album One Level Deeper Than The Rest confirms it.
More than half of the tracks on this record are less than three-minutes in length, and the other four cuts that dare to be longer contain a wild amount of ideas inside of their time, which makes this whole album feel like it’s flying through its lineup at warp-speed. Essentially, Simon’s played it right…there’s very little time for listeners to really catch their breath or think their own thoughts about whatever they just experienced with any given tune, so going with a record of nine tracks was very much the way to go. As it begins with “One Way Only” you can get a sense of what’s about to come atcha – there is a LOT involved to say the least…but what else would you expect from a dude that makes “pop, rap, punk, rock, j-rock, electronic, anime, video game and film music?” It’s clear that Simon likes a whole lot of things, and equally clear that he’s content to try & jam all that into one record if it’s possible. I can recognize that something like “One Way Only” is going to be over the heads of many listeners out there and makes intense demands on the average everyday listener to keep up with it all…but that being said, I firmly believe there’s an audience out there for all kinds of music, it’s just a matter of finding it. Quite frankly, he’s got some highly exceptional ideas in terms of melody, structure, and sound combined…”One Way Only” is going to take a spin or two for most folks to absorb, but it certainly has memorable energy and hooks that emanate from both the music & the microphone. I don’t mind complexities in what I listen to personally, it makes for adventurous & ambitious material that challenges convention in many ways. While I’ll admit, I don’t exactly fall into the category of the average listener as a result of being a critic, the most you’ll find me conceding to ya is that Safhalter has opportunities to expand his sound & evolve in the production – the busier things are, the clearer they need to become for the masses out there. As it stands right now, “One Way Only” is more than listenable, but there is more room revealed for Simon to grow in regards to production if that’s the direction he chooses to take his music later down the road.
Like it’s either anxiety-inducing, or satisfying for your A.D.D. – and I’m not too sure how much space there is between those poles of measurement. “Escapes” is another stellar example of how Simon’s able to incorporate a massive array of sound within one experience…and depending on who ya are, what you like, and what ya listen to, you’ll find hooks of all kinds. To me, I’d tell ya that the majority of the most memorable ones are found more within the verses as opposed to the consistent beat of the chorus – but you might very well feel different, or the complete opposite about that. Musically, this mother is MOVIN’ at lightning speed if you’re listening to the background at its core…Safhalter has done a really rad job in making any of this feel like it’s moving at a reasonable speed we can process, even when the reality is, it likely isn’t for most. Personally I really dig how things shift around the 1:35 mark and surge on from there…the electro-aspect of the music at the center of it all is straight-up WILD to listen to…but I really dig just how unlike so much of what is out there Simon’s music truly is. For others, they might latch right onto the chorus-chant that sounds like it could easily incite a mob riot…that might be the number one draw for many, especially in a live setting…and if that’s you, enjoy it & turn it on UP!
Right from the very beginning of “A Trace Of My Own,” I felt like I’d be on more solid ground in terms of what I tend to listen to myself personally…this is much closer to what I’d normally choose to listen to on my own playlists & such. Simon’s gifted when it comes to how he approaches the craft of making music and equally gifted in how he goes about creating melody…to me, the more space he gives himself to let that aspect of his sound shine, the potentially better off he’ll be, and/or the further his songs will spread around the scene. As far as my ears are concerned, if there’s a single to be found in the first three tracks on One Level Deeper Than The Rest, it’s definitely “A Trace Of My Own” without a doubt. He kind of reminds me a bit of Styrofoam on this particular cut…ultimately still more aggressive than that Electro-based project tended to be, but similar for the intensity of the depth in the melody & talent on display. I personally think the extra time that Simon uses on “A Trace Of My Own” in comparison to the first two tracks on this record pays off a ton in the album’s third cut…everything is that much more absorbable, and by that token, allows his music the opportunity to make more of a tangible impact beyond being a total shock to your system. The dude uses the extra time to his advantage and spreads out his ideas in a way that’ll definitely keep people listening. By that same token, I don’t think he’s damaged his street-credit as an Electro-Punk either…”A Trace Of My Own” simply sounds good to listen to, and it’s equally thought-provoking and evocative…each listener will find a dimension of this track that connects to them.
Even when he does attempt to create a more serene & atmospheric vibe like he does on “Lethal Dose,” don’t expect things to be any less intense at the end of the day…I get the feeling Simon only has that one gear, even while he’s got such an extraordinary range of interests. This dude goes hard in the paint y’all, you feel me? As a result of his dedication and resounding commitment, even a tapestry of what appears to be more delicate and gentle sound like you’ll find on “Lethal Dose” still has extremely bold & scathing moments inside it. You feel the music that this dude makes, and there’s always something to be said for that…no one out there is ever gonna feel indifferent towards the music of Simon Safhalter. “Lethal Dose” eventually takes on a more ominous tone as it shifts into its second half, and he’ll even unleash a pretty damn beastly subdued scream at ya around the 2:30 mark…you know, just in case anyone out there was getting a tad too comfortable. Simon’s very content with creating music that could only be described as an experience…and ultimately, that’s a good thing…songs can come and go, but an experience is generally something that you’ll never forget. Again, depending on who ya are and what ya like, some will love the experience, and perhaps others not so much maybe – but the chances are, anyone listening to Simon’s music is going to remember they did & long remember his name after. I think I personally felt like “Lethal Dose” was going to appeal to me more than it did given that it was a lot more spacious…I do like it for sure, but I still feel like “A Trace Of My Own” is the real star of side A.
Dude’s got bars too eh? I dig that Simon’s one of the most ambitious artists I think I’ve ever heard y’all. I think “Prisoner” still supports my argument on behalf of clarity being crucial…the more intense he tends to become, the less clear things seem to be. I think of bands like The Mars Volta and what they would have been like if they didn’t have enough separation in the sounds they were rocking, or the same of something as insane as Venetian Snares in the Electro-realm…as bizarre as either of their music would be from track to track, clarity became the paramount ingredient and way for them to reach the masses. Like “One Way Only,” or “Escapes” at the beginning, “Prisoner” still has just enough of it, but it’s riding the edge of what the masses out there will accept like it’s the finest of lines. Ultimately, it really depends on what Simon’s looking to create and who he wants to appeal to – he’s more than welcome to tell the masses to pound sand as most artists would in a situation like this, and continue going in whatever direction he chooses to. Otherwise, he’s got an opportunity to find ways to bend his style & sound into a bit more of an accessible sphere that the people could potentially hang with – nothing says he’s gotta switch things up so much that you’d never recognize him or that he’d lose his identity…it’s just a matter of refining things 10% more than he currently is, that’s all. Is he capable? I have no doubt that he is. Is he likely experimenting more with texture and contrast on purpose than most artists would dare? Almost certainly. Is there a balance in between those worlds that would probably bring him to the most well-rounded level of appeal and accessibility to achieve the success that the kind of effort he puts in deserves? You betcha. Up to him on how he wants to go about all of that.
I’m definitely gonna side with “Frogs In A Hot Pot” being one of the record’s best tracks for sure. Listen to this dude let that Electro-aspect shine as it surges around the forty-second mark – brilliant. Stellar bass-line grooves & great vocals as well, and to me, the intensity & intended chaos was approached with a more professional touch here…so that might be something that Simon wants to look into. I suppose what I’m saying is, the fusion he’s looking for and the level of clarity it really needs, is much closer to what he hear on “Frogs In A Hot Pot.” I’d be the first to tell ya that the music he’s creating is already a style that requires expert-level know-how behind the studio boards…I’m not saying that he doesn’t hold his own, he does – I’m simply stating the facts that the kind of music he’s making is among the most extraordinary in terms of what it demands from the mixing, engineering, mastering and whatnot. For it to all be as complex as it has been, honestly, it’s commendable that he’s come out with the results that he has been. I see music that goes back about three years on his page at the moment…maybe he’s been at it for longer than that, I don’t really know – but I do know that if that’s the length of how long he’s been around for, then he’s actually excelling as a DIY artist by every conceivable measurement. He’s basically skipped straight past all the beginners levels, and like “Frogs In A Hot Pot,” thrown himself straight into the hot water without thinking about the scorching heat of how intense the demands are in terms of skills, not just the creative ones, but technical too. I suppose what I’m saying is that even the most seasoned veterans of the game would probably run away screaming knowing how much would be involved in making Simon’s music complete perfection on a production level, so give this guy real credit for making things as stellar as they are already. He’s got the right ideas, he’s got more than enough skill to make them work, and from here it’s all about refining and polishing it all up if that’s what he wants to do. No one says that it is, or that he has to – it’s all about what he wants to create and how he wants to create it, pure and simple. All I know is I listen to “Frogs In A Hot Pot” find that insatiable smoothness around the 2:10 mark right after a brilliant surge through some of this song’s most intense moments, and I’m like…hell yeah – THAT is exactly what this dude should be truly striving towards without a doubt.
A great example of Simon beating the odds would be “For The Many.” This is where my ears are basically desperate for the kind of clarity that “Frogs In A Hot Pot” just put on display, yet everything about “For The Many” jams in such an undeniably rad way, that you can’t help but wanna turn this track up as loud as your system can take it anyway. It’s playful, maniacal, off the wall, and grounded all at the same time…and you know something? I think Simon is fully aware of that. In terms of the clarity & whatnot, you can hear many aspects of his music ARE as clear as they should be…which suggest that’s he’s actually dirtying things up purposely with intent as a stylistic choice. And I ain’t the guy to tell you he’s wrong to do that – I’m simply the guy to remind y’all that the masses hear things differently than creators do, that’s the reality. To people that can separate sound, they fully get what each layer of a song can bring to the collage of a mix overall…to people that can’t, it can sound like it’s unintentionally muddled and hard to make sense of. I’m much more apt to let someone like Simon’s creativity be left to his own devices…you don’t wanna stifle what you hear from this guy, you want it to flourish. There might be the occasional thing we want to hear, but it’d be a small sacrifice to make on our end in order to let this guy’s creativity straight-up wow you. He’s uniquely different than so many musical minds, and even in the best-case scenario he’s likely going to be an acquired taste…so in my opinion, stand back and let him do what he does…whatever he goes on to do will be unlike what most would dare to attempt. Uniqueness isn’t always rewarded overnight, but it eventually gets recognized for what it contributes.
Like I was tellin’ ya from the get-go, this record is A LOT to absorb – and for many, its most challenging moment is right up ahead with the controlled chaos of “System 2.0.” I am probably gonna be on the fringe opinion when it comes to this particular track…to me, I think this might be THE track of all tracks on this particular record for Simon, with some of his most commendable production along with it. I do not expect everyone to feel the same about it as I do…not even close if I’m being honest with ya – but for those out there looking for something undeniably different, played with powerful passion second to none, “System 2.0” is probably the level of creativity & uniqueness you’ve been looking for. Absolutely WILD from beginning to end, you’re not gonna hear too many tracks like “System 2.0” this year, or likely within your LIFETIME for that matter…but that’s definitely part of what makes Safhalter as special as he is. I’ve been trying to explain how this dude thinks One Level Deeper Than The Rest of us, but “System 2.0” is the track that says it all for me – I should have simply directed every one of you reading to this cut and left it at that. Bloody BRILLIANT if you ask me…I love everything about this track from the way that it sounds to the way that it moves…and chances are, most people are gonna think this dude is on CRACK when they hear this song. I assure you he’s not. Or at least as much as I can without knowing him. I don’t think you can achieve such extraordinary results whilst on crack though, so I’m giving him the full benefit of the doubt…Simon’s just grown up playing in a different sandbox than the rest of the kids out there did, and now as an adult, we hear what the results of that truly are. Tangible uniqueness y’all…there ain’t anything wrong with having that as one of your main qualities as an artist & that’s facts.
Sometimes…and I’m just posing a theory here, but it’s one I’m positive we can all get behind…what we hear as universal, truly is exactly that. Whether you’re the original creator, or a listener on the other side of the speakers – when an artist or band stumbles onto something that’s got an undeniable level of accessibility, we ALL feel it practically & precisely the same way…somewhere in there, is where the true magic of music really resides. So in saying that, seeing “A Trace Of My Own” come back for a second appearance in a separate piano version at the end actually wasn’t too much of a surprise…it was actually one of the moves Simon’s made that seemed like it makes the most logical sense when it comes to this particular record. “A Trace Of My Own” is an extremely well-written tune…to the point where I’d be way more shocked if someone out there didn’t recognize that as opposed to the many of us that will. Did I enjoy the piano version more than the original? Probably – but that’s me…I’m a melody guy, and I tend to like any tune out there that enhances that aspect or shines the spotlight on it. I certainly ain’t taking any points away from either version…”A Trace Of My Own” is simply one of those amazing songs that we all know is amazing from the very first time we hear it, and no matter which version you listen to, you really can’t lose. It even beats my usual advice of not including any song twice, to avoid burning out the best of what we create twice as fast…when you’ve got a track that’s this undeniably special and two versions that are that decisively different, you can get around the risk in having something appear two times. It makes for a mesmerizing & captivating ending, via the most delicate means…it’s got stunning clarity that allows us to absorb the lyricism that much more, and proves Simon doesn’t even need to make all that incredible noise to make the most powerful impact on us as listeners after all.
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