Christopher Taylor's first album as SOHN, Tremors, held the title as my favorite album of 2014. I was unfamiliar with Taylor's previous musical life, as Trouble Over Tokyo he released three albums and an EP, so Tremors was my introduction to his music. As you'll see in my review, SOHN's production work and songwriting blew me away and his work with artists like Banks and Aquilo has just further cemented my belief he is one of the most exciting producers working in electronic pop music today.
Now SOHN has returned with the tough task of following up Tremors, but he has pulled it off with his sophomore release Rennen. Right from the start it's apparent there will be a harder edge to some of this new material with opening track "Hard Liquor". It's aggressive, fairly dark then adds a dance beat near the end. As with much of SOHN's work, a headphone listen is recommended on this one. There are all manner of chopped up vocals and effects running in the background that will bounce around inside your head. Given the Trumpian nightmare we are just starting to find ourselves living in, "Conrad" couldn't be more relevant and timely. "I can feel it coming, we can never go back" is the key line of the song as SOHN delivers a stern warning of the impact of climate change and public apathy towards the world at large. "I can feel it coming over the hillside/It's a valley fire and it's coming to burn us down/Like a rushing comet bound for the planet/And we're dinosaurs living in denial" are just a taste of the pointed lyrics on this powerful track, emphasized with pounding drums.
The first track released from the album, "Signal" has all the elements of that signature SOHN sound. A ticking electronic beat, augmented by live drums, somber keyboards and his unparalleled vocal work, his lead joined by layers of his own backing vocals. "Primary" contains another topical lyric as SOHN decries, "Nobody seems able to make a change and I can't believe we're not better than this." It's a sparse track, just keyboards and vocals until it evolves halfway through into dance beats. "Proof" is the darkest song on the album, while "Falling" is another masterwork of production that starts with a heavy, buzzing electronic bass loop before building piece by piece with snare hits, beats that sound like the ticking of a clock and then a full blown conclusion. By far the album's most beautiful moments are contained in the title track. "Rennen" is stripped down to a piano line, some background atmospheric electronics and that amazing voice and it is gorgeous. SOHN duets with himself, slowed down then in falsetto. It's a mesmerizing track, one of his finest to date.
As with his first album, SOHN leaves you wanting more with Rennen. At 38 minutes it's even shorter than Tremors, but this is an artist committed to quality over quantity. My belief SOHN is one of the finest producers working today is confirmed.
Favorite tracks: "Rennen", "Signal", "Conrad", "Hard Liquor"
Rennen was released January 13th, 2017 on the 4AD label.