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The world we knew when SOHN debuted Tremors back in 2014 seems like a distant and almost unrecognisable daydream. After almost three years of continual touring and writing, the London-born producer has finally unleashed his sophomore album.
Rennen, which is of Germanic origin means to run. First instinct is, of course, to wonder if SOHN (aka Christopher Taylor) is running toward something, or away from it. Although we may not know which it is, one thing is abundantly clear, there is only forward motion. Little answers to our questions are doused into songs via lyrics like, “I can feel it coming, we can never go back,” which appears on ‘Conrad’ and ‘Signals’ lyric “Got me thinking how I want it to be”.
Opener ‘Hard Liquor’ contains a guttural bass line which drags along the floor in an almost sultry manner. The rhythm of the drum machines are erratic and anxious, and when paired with delicately contoured melodies creates an undulating shift of power between dark and light.
Calling it early, the glimmering gem of Rennen is placed in the dead centre of the track listing. ‘Primary’ contains that immeasurable “it” factor that will knock you back into your seat. For any who felt even remotely saddened by the choices of both the British and American people last year, this song will break your heart. The stripped back accompaniment leaves every word burned into your ears, SOHN is searching for patience and a sense of hope which he cannot find. When he sings, “I thought we were past this, I thought we’d grown?” it’s like he reached into the intimate conversations of millions around the globe on November 8th.
Ingrained deeper than the lyrical content, however, is a second message. Hidden within the arrangement is a bittersweet call for unity and by the song’s finale a little light manages to sneak through. From here we move from strength to strength. Next comes the title track which plays out like a farewell letter. On Tremors, SOHN sung of his faith as something he was worried he’d lost, by Rennen, we see it wasn’t lost…it has been purposefully left behind.
Sometimes, the back end of an album can fall a little flat. Thankfully, SOHN was merely saving the best till last. From ‘Falling’ through to ‘Harbour’, things take a dizzying journey that’s all too easy get lost in.
‘Falling’ is a rich tapestry of tonalities, the colours (excuse the visual analogy) paint an exquisitely bright and yet vastly deep image of an otherworldly experience. While ‘Still Waters’ offers a much needed moment of breathing space. The descending accompaniment alludes to nostalgic balladry and the breathy realness of horns give listeners the most personable and intimate moment yet, which appears to be a moment of hope.
Keeping on the topic of production, “warm” is a term we hear an unfair amount when discussing the use of analogue equipment in electronic music. While the easy (read: lazy) way out is to describe the sound production on Rennen as, “warm” a more accurate term would be “human”.
Rennen is beautifully human, not because it’s awash with performance imperfections or the hiss of a vintage microphone. Rennen is human because SOHN has somehow managed to sonically personify his very self. From the erratic drums like bones, atmospheric pads like the air in your lungs to the grimy sub-bass which emulates a pulsing heart. Interestingly, the mixing of such human sounds has been executed with the most meticulous care in regard to placement and balance. The quality is clinical, yet the emotion is still able to burst through this shiny veneer.
When trying to take it all in and break it down, a sense of being overwhelmed is natural. SOHN is taking on important social, environmental, political and existential issues that plague us collectively. Solace to be found in the fact that despite all of this heavy content, beautiful music is still being made and Rennen stands as a shining example.
Watch: SOHN – Hard Liquor