SOHN – Rennen

by Jon Burke Rating:8 Release Date:2017-01-13

On its face SOHN’s new album, Rennen, is an innocuous bit of electronic soul.  SOHN has compiled complex rhythmic structures to underpin oceans of synths often with a mournful male voice crooning over the groove – a description befitting any number of current indie soul darlings (James Blake, Sampha, Jamie Woon, etc). And on first listen Rennen does sound a bit like a XX-meets-Justin Timberlake mashup. Listeners would therefore be forgiven for dismissing SOHN’s latest creation as a cute bit of pop fluff on their first time through Rennen's ten tracks. Subsequent attempts to dismiss these songs become increasingly difficult however because Rennen is a bonafide creeper of a record that will certainly haunt listeners' playlists (and yearly top ten lists) for the foreseeable future.

Rennen bizarrely opens with “Hard Liquor” – easily the album’s least interesting song and an inexplicable choice for track one. On an album loaded with appealing tunes, “Hard Liquor” amounts to little more than a sophomoric attempt at some kind of electro-blues. Oddly, some of Rennen's appeal comes from the swift recovery and sustained greatness following “Hard Liquor” and thus maybe the seemingly strange tracking choice was intentional.

The album's second song, “Conrad”, is the kind of pop music gold destined to become the theme song for a premium cable television drama. It’s a layered, expansive, truly cinematic piece of music. Many listeners will have “Conrad” on repeat shortly after their first listen. From the catchy chorus (“I can feel it coming/ We can never go back”) to the plodding beat building to a fiery barn-burner of a finale, “Conrad” is the same brand of slightly-edgy, commercial-friendly, pop that has moved units for such disparate artists as the Black Keys, Gotye and Regina Spektor.

Other standouts on Rennen include “Signal” which is essentially a Prince homage tucked into a twisting, autotuned cacophony of a track. “Dead Wrong” offers a sweet slice of 80s synth-pop that would have fit in quite well on Tears for Fears’ Songs from the Big Chair. Rennen’s eponymous track is a lovely little soul ballad set over a simple piano riff that transforms into a harmonized duet. “Falling” begins as a simple bass riff to which layers of voice, drums and other instrumentation are added with the final result not dissimilar to an electro jug band. “Proof” could be a 2017 update on Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” with its boom bap beat served over a braying chorus of digitally altered human voices. Sonic space is an important commodity on “Proof” – the sensation of breathing during the song’s brief moments of silence makes the track bounce, pulsing with life.

SOHN has made a remarkable album with Rennen. Though it doesn’t attempt to break boundaries, Rennen refuses to test anyone’s patience by never denying its true pop aspirations. Imagine a James Blake record without the excess of specious falsetto, or having to skip over copious bland tracks, and you’d come close to the euphoric brilliance SOHN offers on Rennen.

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