Review Summary: Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing
SOHN, aka Christopher Taylor, is an electronic producer / soul singer from England. Rennen
is his sophomore album, and is quite possibly the most dreadfully boring piece of music I’ve listened to in a few years. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against SOHN. I was actually quite fond of a few tracks on his debut record, Tremors
, even though I felt it was somewhat lacking as an overall album. However, the main problem with Tremors
was how it shamelessly hopped on the electro-soul bandwagon that was so prominent at the time. Artists like James Blake and Alex Clare had already taken this sound into the mainstream, which left Tremors
looking like a poor man’s Overgrown
, I thought, he’ll find his own unique style in future releases.
Boy, was I wrong.
The thing that initially struck me about Rennen
is just how ugly
it sounds. The album’s opening track, “Hard Liquor,” begins with a strange vocalization somewhere between a burp and a moan and then loops it together with a series of muted thuds and distorted belches to create a truly obnoxious beat. The first line- “My baby don’t turn around”- brought back memories of OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” along with the depressing reminder that I was listening to a song far less enjoyable than that. Shockingly, SOHN is able to create even more disgusting noises throughout the album’s duration, from the mish-mashed gurgling at the end of “Signal” (an otherwise great track) to the tired overuse of ghost vocals in the middle of “Proof.” Yet the worst sonic misstep is clearly the strange mix of abrasive farting synths and cliche water-droplet beats in “Dead Wrong” that end up sounding like a dubstep remix of SOHN dropping a deuce, toilet splashes and all.
Irksome as these moments are, at least they manage to provide some much-needed texture to a record that is otherwise as dull and flat as possible. Electronic music is drab by nature, which is why the most successful artists in the genre are those who bring enough emotion and passion to their music to make it stand out. Even James Blake’s most recent album, though excessively dark and gloomy, had enough heart and soul shimmering below the surface to make it a worthwhile listen. Rennen
has none of this. It is a record lacking atmosphere in every possible way. Much of this is due to the vocals, which fail to convey much emotion despite SOHN's wide range and talent.
The cover art is bland and geometric, accurately reflecting the tiresome, formulaic nature of the music inside. Slower, more minimalistic numbers like “Primary” and “Still Waters” meander around aimlessly, as if trapped in a dreary musical limbo. However, these problems persist even when the album picks up speed. “Conrad” is the most exciting and enjoyable thing here, yet is essentially a carbon copy of “Artifice” from SOHN’s first album. Rennen'
s contrasting styles share a comically absurd relationship: the quieter tracks are so bare and plodding that the listener yearns for something more engaging, yet every time SOHN attempts to make a club banger, the results are either unoriginal or annoyingly mechanical, which, in turn, makes one long for a return to the initial boredom that they wished to escape.
Lyrically, the album is a hodgepodge of themes varying from father/son relationships (the title track) to climate change and politics (“Conrad” and “Primary,” respectively). While SOHN’s desire to address such topics is admirable, the lack of a central theme is another reason that Rennen
makes for such a dull listen. Though SOHN is probably tired of the James Blake comparisons, lyricism is yet another field in which he is outmatched. The Colour in Anything
was full of poetic gems on loss and heartbreak that helped tie it together as a cohesive collection. Rennen
, on the other hand, continuously fails to make interesting statements of any kind, and thematically suffers as a result.
In my opinion, weak albums fall into three categories. The first category is for albums made by genuinely creative artists whose experiments, while noble, end up falling flat (think Kid Cudi’s Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven
). The second is reserved for radio-friendly artists (Meghan Trainor, Shawn Mendes, etc.) who are expected to make bad music and will probably never release a good album. While both of these categories end up producing some godawful records, the music that is truly shameful falls in category three. This category is home to albums totally devoid of creativity, purpose, and craft. Albums made by artists who don’t even seem to be interested in the music they make. Albums like Rennen
. I know SOHN can do better, but I'm left with the feeling that he doesn't really want to.