SOHN doesn’t have to prove his musical bonafides to anybody. He has worked with a number of artists producing masterpiece after masterpiece, recently working with BANKS on her album, The Altar, which I have expressed my undying love for previously. SOHN’s first album, 2014’s Tremors, was a solid first offering from the English musician. His ability to bend genres and sounds is second to none. That’s why it should come as no surprise that even without anything to prove SOHN has started 2017 with his best work yet. Rennen is an intimate, complex, and thoroughly engaging album, both musically and emotionally.
The first unique thing that comes through in SOHN’s album—an elements obviously not shown off in his production work—is his voice. SOHN can sing stunningly, and not just technically—although his range is frankly amazing. The emotion that he can wring out of a song is real and intense, enough to bring a tear to your eye if a particular line or moment hits you right. On the reflective, slow “Primary,” SOHN sings, “We all believed we were better than this; we’re not better than this,” with such sadness and resignation as to be reflexively felt physically in the listener’s chest. This leads directly into the title track, “Rennen,” in which SOHN takes to the piano and uses his falsetto to address his parents at his lowest, a moving ode that while deeply personal still rings with relatable sorrow.
Rennen works best when SOHN simplifies his production to allow his writing and voice to shine through, and thankfully a large chunk of the album does exactly that. At no point does the production feel like it’s overshadowing SOHN, instead working collaboratively to deliver an artistic expression. “Signal” is a great example of this, with distortion, synths, and varied percussion rising and falling with the emotion of the song. Speaking of “Signal,” that’s a song that I would advise you to watch the music video for every time you want to listen to it. The clip was directed by Milla Jovovich and features one of her strongest acting performances, and is a piece of artwork that should not be missed.
Rennen is a predominantly serious album, with things getting very real throughout. From the title track to “Signal” to “Still Waters” (which matches its nautical name with water-like, bubbling instrumentals), the album carries a certain heaviness to it. That doesn’t mean SOHN doesn’t know how to pick up the tempo and create some jams, though. They’re just jams with a message. “Hard Liquor” begins with a combination of synths and ancient-sounding pipes and turns into a reverent EDM-infused ballad to fiery, powerful women. Single “Conrad” combines the repetition of “I can feel it coming, we can never go back,” and a steadily increasing sense of paradoxically upbeat foreboding in the music to great effect.
You get the sense that SOHN is the type of person you could talk to thousands of times and find something new in him with each conversation. Rennen reflects this, with sometimes joyous sounding instrumentals giving way to serious discussions of the dreadfully unknowable future, past emotional agony, and current emotional complexity. It’s an album to wrangle with and listen to and dissect throughout the rest of 2017.
‘Rennen’ is out today, January 13, through 4AD and can be purchased here.