Tag: Sohn

Top 50 Songs of 2018 – the top 10

LogoMakr_3klJ7k

  1. Orbital – Tiny Foldable Cities

Listening to Tiny Foldable Cities feels like you’ve turned into Superman. Soaring high in the sky and rapidly gliding amongst the clouds, you watch the world below as you zoom on by.

 

  1. Azealia Banks – Anna Wintour

My most listened to song of 2018 is the dancefloor destroyer Anna Wintour. From the beats to the vocals, everything sounds fresh and catchy. Originally meant to feature Mel B (of Spice Girls fame) and Nicki Minaj, instead Azealia Banks undertakes all the singing, rapping and slaying duties herself. If this song doesn’t make you strut, you aren’t living.

 

  1. Ben Howard – Nica Libres At Dusk

The opening track of Noonday Dream is an evocative and tender track filled with sadness and longing. There are hints of the idyllic Caribbean beach that is dreamt about within the lyrics, but Nica Libres At Dusk feels much colder and wind-swept, more Bournemouth in autumn than Barbados at the height of summer.

 

  1. Let’s Eat Grandma – Hot Pink

Let’s Eat Grandma are one of the most intriguing acts in British music. I first saw them in 2016 and their girlish charm mixed with gothic pop was captivating. Hot Pink is anything but girlish; a monstrous statement about the strength of women, backed up by production that sounds like the end of the world.

 

  1. SOHN – Nil

Nil is a brutally honest song. “Tell me if I’m not mistaken, but you’re not in love, am I right?”, SOHN sings without judgement or malice. Nil is the end; sadness and pain swirls all around and the voice falters only slightly. This is the laying to rest of a relationship, and it is absolutely heart-breaking.

 

  1. Robyn – Honey

Honey feels you’re dreaming but haven’t slept for days. Sensual, pulsating and entirely hypnotic, it’s the kind of track that makes you check your pulse to make sure it’s all real. Every element of Honey is perfect; from the rumbling synths and subtle addition of samba drumming to the bewitching hi-hats, Honey is a four-minute transcendence into something more meaningful.

 

  1. Jon Hopkins – Emerald Rush

It may be because Emerald Rush reminds me of Hans Zimmer’s amazing Interstellar soundtrack, but no earthly settling feels big enough to imagine Emerald Rush. It plays out like a giant intergalactic battle, with black holes and exploding planets. It’s a magnificent and evocative piece of music, and I bet it sounds massive on a dancefloor.

 

  1. Plastic Mermaids – 1996

The unusual relationships between humans and technology has become an increasingly discussed topic. Whether it be the threat of AI, the overdependence on technology or romantic relationships (for example the 2014 Spike Jonze film, Her), there’s a fascination about how technology can affect us, physically and emotionally. In 1996, Plastic Mermaids give their own spectacular contribution to this discussion, full of upgrades, digital funerals and provocative lyrics, all set to one of the catchiest and least predictable pop songs this year. And if that wasn’t enough, they also made what I think was the best video of the year. I can’t wait for next year’s album and London tour date.

 

  1. Rae Morris – Rose Garden

Rae Morris has been making solid records for a while, but nothing prepared me for the massive step up in her song writing craft that is Rose Garden. Written about a friend who is suffering with a long-term illness – and Morris’s own frustrations at being unable to help – Rose Garden is a tour de force of outstanding production and beautiful melodies that peaks with an almost heavenly bridge. Morris has said that this song reflects a direction she’d like to explore in her future work, and if she can match this quality then we’re in for something special.

 

  1. The Twilight Sad – I/m Not Here [Missing Face]

From the opening notes the claustrophobic tone of I/m Not Here imposes itself. The sense of bitter end is everywhere and relief eludes us. The end of a relationship, the sadness, distrust and blame whirls around, and James Graham’s Scottish lilt gives real meaning to every word. The isolation is obvious from the opening lytrics, “you’re too close for comfort, you’re too close to comfort me.” The piano tries to give some light – some space – but there’s just no way it can win here. This is a stupendous song; one that rewards continual listens and the best work yet from a fantastic band.

 

It’s Album Time: SOHN – Rennen

logomakr_0ficcr

SOHN – Rennen 

sohn-rennen-cover-40435f6

In early January – and shortly before hearing this album for this first time – I binge-watched last year’s HBO drama Westworld. The parallels between the two were really rather striking; in the show there’s a constant hoping between a rural wild-west setting and a cold, sterile office set filled with glass walls but where you’re never sure if you’re seeing clearly. There’s a constant battle between our past and our future, and the show explores the similarities, differences, strengths and weaknesses of humanity and artificial intelligence, with a constant exploration of consciousness and the decisions we make.

Sohn – aka Christopher Taylor – has somehow – accidentally – managed to incorporate many of those same themes in his second solo album. Writing and recording in rural California – after tiring of LA – you can hear a rugged, country-inflected soul in Rennen including the use of beer bottles and kitchen utensils for percussion parts, but it’s overlapped with cold, harsh synth parts throughout that bring to mind James Blake and Aero Flynn.

Rennen is, on the surface, a tremendously appealing alt pop record. It’s full of catchy melodies and accessible songs with some magnificent percussion and dazzling synths. Album opening Hard Liquor sets a relentless pace; sounding like a bastardised version of one of those Westworld saloon scenes, malfunctioning AI noises and all.

But it’s on the second track – Conrad – that the album begins to truly reveal itself. Because – away from the surface – this is an album in which the lyrics – often only in snippets and repetitions – speak of a bleak individual, not quite tortured but unsure if its him that’s the problem or if things are really as bad as he believes. Two of the verses in Conrad reveal a trepidation; a lyrical reinterpretation of George Santayana’s missive – often attributed to Churchill – Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”:

I can feel it coming over the hillside

It’s a valley fire and it’s coming to burn us down

Like a rushing comet bound for the planet

And we’re dinosaurs living in denial

I can feel it coming, coming back to haunt me

It’s a glass that’s empty and we’re trying to fill it up

We’re lost civilians with the weight of millions

We’re pawns in war living in denial

Sohn – a former Vienna resident – has spoken of how the Austrian Presidential Election last year – in which a Far-Right candidate narrowly missed out on victory – affected the album’s material, along with the rise of Donald Trump. But far from being a brash protest record, Rennen sees Sohn exploring his own reactions, his own convictions and strengths, as much as encouraging others to rise up. As he sings on Primary:

But everybody knows it’s wrong
Everybody knows it’s wrong
And I can’t do this to the one I love
I hope I can go on
I hope I prove myself wrong

There’s a strong emphasis on self-doubt throughout Rennen; as if Sohn himself can’t currently gear himself up for battle, or even come to terms with the realisation that battle is once again required.

The theme of ‘going on’ constantly reoccurs on Rennen in two different ways. There’s a restless quality to the lyrics. The theme of travel and moving on continues to loop back into the songs; reflecting perhaps Sohn’s own recent travels from Vienna to Los Angeles. But there is another – more ominous – element to it as well; Falling and Harbour both deal with death-defying desires – ‘Hope I will never drown, I will never drown’ are the closing lyrics on the album – which seem to reflect how dark Sohn is finding the world in 2017. The supply of hope seems to have been cut off, and he’s searching for a way to keep his good instincts alive.

Perhaps unsurprisingly – given the desire for hope – religious allegories and imagery weave their way into the lyrics. Perhaps most obviously on – title-track – Rennen ‘Oh Father, release me’, ‘My faith don’t mean a thing’ but also on Primary (‘Give me patience’ Sohn asks, with echoes of the Serenity Prayer). Penultimate track Still Waters also seems steeped in Christian tradition; there’s a pleading for a male figure to ‘silence the storm’; ‘Lend him the light to prevail’ only moves us closer to John 8: 12, with Jesus declaring ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

It is of great credit to Sohn that an album filled with such dark thoughts and despair can sound so good. It takes a very special hand to create 37 minutes of pop music this good; to present a shiny, catchy pop veneer and to have lurking under the surface a pool of anger, resentment, questions of identity and self-doubt. The best album of this nature in recent years was the absolutely magnificent Get To Heaven by Everything Everything, and while Rennen falls a little short of that standard, it’s still a hugely impressive piece of work.

Almost every review or story of this album has talked about it being ‘more political’ which is true, but is also to slightly miss one key element; Rennen is the story of one man’s search for hope, and how elusive it can be.

 

This Week: seven new tracks to tickle your ears

logomakr_76k0fbI meant to get this out yesterday, but an unforeseen work crisis kept me in the office. Annoying, but it happens. If you’re super angry about the delay, here’s a cute picture of Max to pacify you:

Beyond these seven tracks we have three additional tracks lined up this week as ‘Tracks of the Day’, the First of which will appear this evening.

Anyway here is the This Week playlist; seven songs that I’ve given a couple of listens to, like, and are here to tickle your ears. Let me know what you think.

Naives – Crystal Clear 

It’s a little early to be predicting the songs that will send crowds bonkers at summer festivals, but I’m pretty confident anyone seeing Naives will remember Crystal Clear. Sitting in a ‘indie meets pop meets dance’ bracket occupied by Friendly Fires and Late of the Pier, this is a shapeshifting track that sounds carefree and playful.

Anna of the North – Oslo 

It’s bloody freezing in London right now, and the icy electronics of Oslo pretty much mirrors that sensation. There’s a strong Chvrches comparison to my ear, and a mournful euphoria at points in this record. It is certainly simple, but more than merits a few listens.

The XX – Performance

For the second week in a row there’s a track from The XX on the playlist. But whereas last week there was the bombastic Dangerous – a complete change in direction for the band – this week we have Performance, a heart-dropping, mournful and gripping record that finds The XX back on familiar ground. Romy’s vocals are – as usual – emotional in a way so few other singers can manage; elevated by the strings and stripped back guitar. I’ve listened to I See You a fair few times in the past week, and Performance is the track that grips my insides more than any other.

Sohn – Harbour 

There’s a lot of good things to say about Rennen, Sohn’s recently released album. I shall hopefully be blogging about it in the next few days. I was a big fan of 2016 singles Signal and Conrad. Harbour is the album closer and has an eery opening; like the beginnings of a science fiction movie. But then it begins to explore the electronica landscape, evolving into something that Caribou would be proud of. Sohn has an interesting habit of writing songs that have two distinct parts, and Harbour is a fascinating idea of what future Sohn albums could sound like; expansive, eery and electrifying.

Black Map – Ruin 

Time to shake away those wintery feelings and embrace the world of rock. Hailing from San Francisco, this trio all feature in other bands but have come together to make some stonking rock music of their own. Ruin starts ominously and has an early 00’s vibe to it. The internet (read: Google) tells me they’ve an album coming out in March, which I’ll certainly check out.

Mixhell – Crocodile Boots (Soulwax Remix) 

I don’t really know how to succinctly describe this record. A robot disco travelling in Doctor Who’s Tardis with Kraftwerk to a distant planet in the future? It’s the best I’ve got. Soulwax remain one of the most interesting acts in music and following a few years doing their Despacio  project it certainly seems like they’ve found their groove in the long-forgotten vinyls of 1982.  It’s certainly distinct and if you can get through it without wanting to sing ‘These are my rules’ then you’re made of sterner stuff than I.

Stage Van H – Orange Beach (Marko Melo Remix) 

I love dance tracks that make me feel like I’m on a long train journey, with scenery flying by the window and the sun setting. Orange Beach has a top-line that constantly teases you; dangling melodies and noises but withdrawing then before you get too comfortable and drawing your ears and imagination back to its dynamic underbelly.