Album Review of Rennen by Sohn.
Release Date: Jan 13, 2017
Record label: 4AD
“My baby don’t turn around, leaves hearts scattered on the ground,” declares Christopher Taylor, aka SOHN, as he croons over guttural whirs and hums. These are the words that greet you on SOHN’s second album Rennen. From the get go the album feels more musically and lyrically personal than his debut 2014 release, Tremors, but when the scintillating electronics kick in you’re reassured that this is the same SOHN who produced that shimmering debut.
Christopher Taylor, aka SOHN, is back with Rennen, the follow-up to his beautiful 2014 debut Tremors. Starting where his previous album left off, the eerie mechanical hook of Hard Liquor makes for the perfect opener, eventually closing with the sound of a needle skipping on a record. Then the intro to Conrad kicks in (‘I can feel it coming / We can never go back’), and the familiar sound of his inimitable vocal reaffirms that yes, this is indeed a SOHN record.
The second track, "Conrad," is the first with political intent, reflecting on the deteriorating state of European politics -- and possibly the life-altering status that comes with being a father. Overall, the composition is way more assured than anything on Tremors, but structurally it follows Sohn's favorite path: a gradual buildup leading to a last-minute crescendo. The four tracks that follow are where Rennen really starts to stumble, with each lacking the urgency found in Sohn's previous work; "Primary" -- a song that reflects the beginning of the U.S.
SOHN has made something of a name for himself with his stylish, on-trend electronic production efforts. He helped craft the sleek and slinky gloom that served as the ethos for Banks’s debut album, and has produced remixes for the likes of Lana Del Rey in a similar vein. Aligning himself neatly with the genre of deconstructed, minimal electro-R&B, he has consistently demonstrating a penchant for forlorn vocal atmospherics and mid-tempo beats that land like sharp pains.
SOHN is an artist who’s influenced as much by his physical surroundings as the events that shape his life. His music is immersive, and he draws upon the sounds and vibrations of his environment to create his sound. For Rennen, his second album, SOHN traded Vienna, a city with an extraordinary cultural legacy, for California, the happy-go-lucky generic breeding ground for so many artists.
There’s a parallel to be drawn between the globetrotting tour schedule that followed SOHN’s breakout ‘Tremors’ in 2014, and the frantic sense of adventure that defined his debut. With effects pulling sounds in each and every direction, tightly looped samples and vocal gymnastics, it was an attention-grabbing introduction. For the most part he pulled it off.
Straddling the worlds of electronica and nu-R&B, British musician Christopher Taylor’s output can be loosely divided into two separate entities. Zoom in and the electronic productions that form the skeleton of his second record come into focus: muggy, oppressive tapestries of pounding percussion and interesting sonic flourishes, from ghoulishly echoing bass to crisp, clip-clopping beats. Take a step back from the digital fiddling, however, and the bigger picture is markedly less appealing.
Running, the title translates as, and to be fair it seems as good a response as any to the year we’ve just had. Between the grim reaping and the political arseholery 2016 had us looking more than once at sneaking out in the night for a cave in the Alps, before we realised just how screwed we were by the exchange rate. SOHN, though, has gone further still, fleeing Vienna for LA and then Bon Ivering to an isolated house in northern California for solitude and songwriting, fusing the chilly, glitch-strewn R&B of 2014’s Tremors with the massive skies and paranoid twitch of the West Coast.
The Flaming Lips, Oczy Mlody Download: Oczy Mlody; How??; One Night While Hunting...; Listening To The Frogs With Demon Eyes; The Castle. The Flaming Lips have always played around with sly dichotomies of sound and meaning, seeking out things like the chilly implications of sunshine, the anxieties ….
What do we expect from a SOHN record in 2017? The London-by-way-of-Vienna (and now by-way-of-Los Angeles) producer trucks in a musical style that’s gotten a lot of play since he appeared on the scene in 2012. It’s no easy feat to stay fresh, and on that point, SOHN’s second album is aptly titled. “Rennen,” German for run, finds SOHN racing to keep up with a genre that has started to outpace him in the three years since his debut album Tremors.