SOHN - Rennen (4AD)

SOHN – Rennen (4AD)

Let me offer you some sage advice. If you’re in the midst of an existential crisis then do not, I repeat DO NOT, play Rennen back to back repeatedly for the best part of week. There, that’s the public health warning out of the way.  SOHN, or Christopher Taylor to his Mum and Dad, has upped sticks from Vienna to Los Angles whereupon he secreted himself away, stayed up all night and delved deep within himself to create Rennen; ten tracks of minimal self-absorption or thirty seven minutes of pretentious nob-twiddling. You can make up your own minds.

My patchy O level German can still recall that ‘rennen’ is translated to English as ‘to run’ which is perhaps an odd title given there is little here to quicken the pulse. SOHN may be after your heart but he’s in no mood to take the direct route; this is a slow burner of an album, one which will bear different fruit as the seasons pass providing you have the patience. Trust me, this it makes it bloody hard to offer up a straightforward and objective review and I bet he knows it too.

The case for the prosecution would doubtless point at tracks such as ‘Dead Wrong’ as an example of the weaker elements of Rennen. It has the appeal of a dripping tap, in fact I think SOHN needs to get a plumber round to his new gaff as I think you can actually hear the leak being sampled. Similarly, ‘Falling‘ resembles my nephew emptying out the contents of his parents’ cutlery draw. The issue I have with SOHN is that when a track doesn’t work then it really doesn’t work. If the lyrical content was more challenging he would at least have a safety net but alas he too often falls back into cliché ridden drudgery.

However, as the defence would contest, when SOHN happens upon the key to alchemy then the results are spectacular. The album opens with three absolute scorchers; ‘Hard Liquor’ is all blues-electronica, lamenting upon relationships but with the uncomfortable thought that he may have just watched a box set of ‘Humans’ and fallen in love. ‘Conrad‘ is an opportunity to hold a mirror up to the problems in Europe from a safe distance yet tinged with a sad, soulful mourning knowing that we can indeed “never go back” before ‘Signal‘ completes the triumvirate, a classy piece of minimalism a la James Blake/Jon Hopkins although again, some more inventive lyrical wordsmithery wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Rennen is genuinely an album of two halves; a mixture of sublime production and a rather frustrating wail-inflected vocal which can be off-putting. However, like me, your overall opinion of the album will almost certainly depend on how you react to the title track, ‘Rennen‘. As I mentioned at the outset, I was part-way through a period of post-Xmas introspection when I first heard the track and it rendered me motionless. The refrain “It’s obvious the Universe/ is trying to tell me to let go” is as haunting a wake up call as there has been since Jacob Marley dropped in on Scrooge. I am still reeling from the emotional weight of the track and the contrast it offers when held up against the modern electronic wizardry elsewhere on the album.

Sometimes, less is more, sometimes it isn’t and occasionally I’m just very confused. Can I please get back to my existential crisis now?

Rennen is released on January 13th on 4AD

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