London-raised, Vienna-made and now Los Angeles-based Christopher Taylor — or SOHN — just dropped his second album after almost three years of silence. The record’s title, Rennen, translates from German to “run.” With this follow up to his successful debut, SOHN found himself itching to pivot away from the snowy Austrian capital where he made his first album, Tremors, in 2014. The artist elaborates, “I went from holing up in a dark studio in Vienna, leaving at 6am and trudging through the snow to get home, to being on a ranch in the California hills, worried that a fire’s going to sweep across and blow everything away.” Ironically, it seems the moody, wintry atmosphere charged Tremors with the signature spark that set SOHN apart in the electro-indie arena. Despite his sunny shift in scenery, SOHN seems proccupied by the shadow of looming loss that the hills of LA cast over his headspace — a shadow that dimmed the emotional impact of Rennen.
The majority of the record’s poignant songs are placed at its opening. “Hard Liquor” is a pulsing, soulful track that peaks at the ringing harmonies of the chorus. Its sexy title and electronic layers are dulled by the surface-level, redundant lyrics. For example, he sings repetitively, “she needs her hard liquor/give her that hard liquor/and she’ll be ok.”
“Conrad,” the second of Rennen’s three singles, matures lyrically and maintains the bassy funk of the first track. Initially, it sounds like an 80’s jam as SOHN croons, “I can feel it comin’ we can never go back” in a Michael Jackson-esque tenor range. The production progresses into a synthy, frenetic collage that leads listeners into the meditative “Signal.” The anticlimactic third track is laced with an eastern-influenced riff — the only component that keeps listeners attention until it’s almost-cringey conclusion.
“Dead Wrong” and “Primary” are at times both disjointed and screechy — the former shows wood-clinking hints of a Glass Animals knock off, while “Primary” is grounded in unintriguing vocals and a generally messy electronic mix.
SOHN simmers down into an echoing piano ballad for the record’s eponymous track. Its ethereal call-and-response vocals occasionally overlap into chill inducing, weepy harmonies. The layered voices act as a reminder of the depth and captivating energy that pervaded Tremors — a depth that Rennen, for the most part, lacks.
“Proof” attempts a last shot at this sensual appeal before the album winds down in its concluding tracks. Loaded with distorted oohs and ahs, creaky bass vibrations and intermittent audible exhales, “Proof” is enticing. Beyond its sexual surface — lines like “skin to skin … I know that you need me now” — SOHN suggests something deeper, sighing, “yeah, we believe in a system, a system but everybody knows it’s wrong.”
There is more brooding beneath the somber surface of Rennen’s concluding track, “Harbour,” as well. If listeners somehow make it to the last minute of this song (the last minute of the album, actually) they’ll be surprised by a sudden, suspense-inducing assault of pixelated noise. The conclusion of “Harbour” could effectively act as the the ending song of a “Mission Impossible” soundtrack – one that strikes when the screen goes black and reads, “to be continued.” It’s the type of frenzied song that beats in the background as the audience sits in a theatre, entranced by an uncalled-for finale.
The album’s finish will seldom be reached, though, for the majority of Rennen’s alluring ambiance occurs at the front end of the album. Beyond a handful of ear-perking melodies and invigorating beats, SOHN seems to have lost some of the electro-lushness that set the bar high for his follow up record.