Sohn - Rennen
Sohn's sophomore record may as well be titled 2016: The Album, in that it balances global anxiety with everyday hopes and fears. Although two tracks overtly glance at European and American politics, respectively, the rest of the lyrical content delves into Sohn's personal trajectory; in the last two years he has fallen in love, married, and become a father. The two approaches perfectly sum up the state of 2016, highlighting that while the world may have taken a turn for the worst, our lives have mostly continued as usual, potentially even for the better. With that frame of mind -- and a wealth of inspiration -- Sohn could have taken some evolutionary strides as an artist, and on Rennen's opening numbers, at least, that appears to be true. Opening track "Hard Liquor" has a lyrical style and content reminiscent of classic blues, albeit molded into a Sohn-like shape by the rolling rhythm underneath. It's no great revelation that this track was originally intended for someone else (Sohn has, after all, co-written for Rihanna in the past). It's easily the biggest departure from his debut, Tremors, and hints at artistic growth; unfortunately, it's a little misleading, as the album gradually realigns itself with Tremors the deeper into the record you go. In and of itself that doesn't make Rennen a bad record -- indeed, Tremors was something of an electronic gem back in 2014 -- but it does seem that the only sign of maturity and progression is in the lyrics, leaving the song structures and melodies feeling a little too familiar. Either way, Sohn hasn't exactly reinvented the wheel here.
The second track, "Conrad," is the first with political intent, reflecting on the deteriorating state of European politics -- and possibly the life-altering status that comes with being a father. Overall, the composition is way more assured than anything on Tremors, but structurally it follows Sohn's favorite path: a gradual buildup leading to a last-minute crescendo. The four tracks that follow are where Rennen really starts to stumble, with each lacking the urgency found in Sohn's previous work; "Primary" -- a song that reflects the beginning of the U.S. presidential election -- even has the unfortunate closing line of "Can I wake up now?" What's most confusing about this change of pace is that Rennen literally means "to run" in German, but here we are ambling along for nearly half of the album. Thankfully, "Falling" picks us back up again, serving as the best example of Sohn's self-set limitations; the choice to only use three elements per track really emphasizes his voice, and when you have a strong bassline and solid percussion, as on "Falling," then they become just as prominent. Typically, the album ends with a last-minute crescendo (featured on five out of ten tracks, but who's counting?), which in any other case would make for a compelling climax, but when you can see it coming from two songs away, it lacks the element of surprise. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, though, is that Sohn hasn't pushed his musical boundaries further; given the titular suggestion he was ready to run wild.