SOHN is the musical pseudonym of London-based producer, singer and songwriter Christopher Taylor, whom I, and many of you, may know more from his work with other artists than from his own work. Having worked as a producer and co-writer for both of BANKS’ albums and as a co-writer on Matt Hales’ 2015 release 10 Figures under his Aqualung pseudonym, I am generally more familiar with his collaborations than with his solo material. Seeing as I have somewhat enjoyed some of the material of a selection of the artists with whom Taylor has worked, I was at the very least curious to hear his solo work when I first gave his 2014 album Tremors a listen. As a debut, I thought it was decent with some particularly good highlights on it, but it failed to stick with me in any notable way. Nonetheless, I was still intrigued to hear how, if at all, Taylor had matured as a solo musician on a second record, especially seeing as some of the singles from Rennen caught my ear so significantly.
As it stands, the teaser tracks from Rennen remain amongst the strongest in the context of the rest of the record, and I would argue that Taylor’s ideas come across most tangibly on the first handful of tracks on Rennen, most notably Hard Liquor, Conrad and Signal, all of which were used as teaser tracks leading up to the release of this album. Upon my first listen, Hard Liquor and Conrad both stood out as having rather bluesy vocal lines during the verses that come off relatively well when paired with the smooth synths that drive both of these tracks. Paying attention to the vocal melodies of these two tracks also brought the lyrical content to my attention. Hard Liquor describes a woman’s struggle with alcoholism and, although the lyrical approach to the topic is rather straightforward, the fact that Taylor would deal with a sensitive issue such as alcohol dependency is indicative of maturation on this new record. The evidence of his maturity continues on to the lyrical content of the next song, Conrad. One would expect a rather serious approach to the lyrics of a song that references a colonial writer and Taylor delivers with some relatively thoughtful lines dealing with the political tension in Europe, particularly following the UK’s vote to pull out of the European Union. The topic of the song may feel somewhat trite at this point, with the two major political events of 2016, Brexit and Trump, being the topic of many a politically-charged single in the last few months, but some lines stand out on Conrad as being rather well-written, most notably “We’re lost civilians with the weight of millions / We’re pawns in war living in denial”. Both these tracks feature some pretty minimalist instrumentation during the verses, with the main focus being on the rhythm and Taylor’s vocals. Whilst this is relatively nice on the ears, the repetition of both these tracks, and many of the songs on here, result in the minimalist structures feeling somewhat tired after the core idea has been established. Although, these tracks really pick up in the catchy hooks, which feature some memorable vocal lines and rich synth leads that would appeal to a lot of fans of electronic-tinged pop music.
The quality of the songwriting feels rather lacklustre on certain tracks on this record, most notably, in my opinion, on Falling. The progression of this track is rather underwhelming, as its development is, for the most part, based on a synth bass ostinato under a lukewarm vocal melody whilst more and more percussive elements are gradually added into the mix. Even if one were to ignore the tinny hi-hat that comes in early on in the track and gets pretty irritating pretty quickly, the composition feels rather empty due to it being based on such a mediocre foundation. The backend of this track features a nice synth melody that could have done to come in earlier and aid in the progression of the composition. Another track that I find to have a relatively underwhelming first section that is improved on in the latter half of the song is the closing track, Harbour. Again, the first part of this track features a relatively passable vocal performance from Taylor that is eventually accompanied with some long synth chords. This first section seems to just peter out and is followed by a few seconds of complete silence until the true closing passage of this track, and the album, kicks in, and makes a case for itself as being one of the strongest points on the album. The multi-layered synths are rather detailed and sound great, with some low, fuzzy melodies providing the foundation of the passage whilst some glistening synths delicately flutter around on top.
Signal stands out to me as a track on which Taylor conveys the key ideas he had for a lot of the songs on this record in a format the comes off pretty well. The foundation of a steady electronic beat with some warm chords accompanying a soft vocal performance from Taylor sounds good as doesn’t feel as repetitive as some of the other tracks that proceed it. Plus, the track progresses in a way that I wish other songs on Rennen would, becoming gradually more multi-layered with some more rhythmic flourishes and a bit more indulgent with the synth lines and the octave-shifted vocals. This transitions smoothly and rewardingly into the climax of the track that features some great production as the wild synths take the lead.
The fact that Rennen opens and closes with some pretty great moments made me feel like I had enjoyed the record as a whole slightly more than I actually had, as the good moments do overshadow the more wanting tracks in the middle of the tracklisting. As a result, I found that revisiting this album comes with the disappointing reminder that not all the tracks live up to the high on which the album starts and finishes. Then again, I must admit that there were quite a few nice details that had passed me by on my first listen, so I would advise against having a fully formed opinion of this thing after just one listen. Whilst there were some very underwhelming moments on this record, it must be said that the good moments were really quite good, giving me a rather mixed feeling about this project. Overall, my feelings towards it are more positive than negative, and at the very least, it leaves me interested to see how Taylor will mature further on his next solo endeavour.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6/10