Featured Album Review: "Tremors" SOHN

SOHN, a Vienna-based, London-born singer/songwriter/producer with a stirring falsetto, also happens to be an admirably economical music critic. In an interview with Billboard last fall, he reduced his woozy brand of electro-tinged R&B to a single word: "wavy."

"Tremors," SOHN's debut album due April 8 on 4AD, is certainly fluid. His songs move in overlapping segments of undulating synths and precision-cut vocal loops, rarely ending in the place they began. As hinted at in the album's title, another single-word descriptor, movement is a central preoccupation for SOHN -- both within the music itself and, thankfully, the body of the listener.

Count Lorde and Miguel among the moved. Since the release of "Bloodflows," his mesmerizing debut single for 4AD posted to SoundCloud in the spring of last year, those two artists, and other practitioners of icy R&B with a much larger profile than his, have recruited SOHN to write and produce material for forthcoming projects. Super producer Dr. Luke snapped him up as a writer for Prescription Songs, his publishing venture with Big Machine Music.

As is sometimes the case with artists who find fame on the Internet, details about SOHN's background are murky. His birth name and even his age are closely guarded secrets, but early singles including "Bloodflows," "The Wheel" and "Oscillate" featured dynamic production and love-scarred lyrics that strongly suggested the work of a savant. He has confessed to stints in bands in college before eventually venturing out on his own, developing a love for analog electronic instruments along the way.

"Fool," one of "Tremors"' best songs, is a showcase for the SOHN playbook. Distorted, industrial bass pulses alternate with pretty, ascending keyboard drips, like a dominatrix switching between cold steel and velvet. SOHN's soulful vocal performance, which sometimes recalls Mike Milosh of Rhye's pillow-talk falsetto, offers words of warning to thoughtless lovers, before an instrumental climax crashes in on layered synth notes, each one held until it frays in a fit of manic release.

Like two contemporaries from across the pond, James Blake and Deptford Goth, SOHN raises the stakes of bedroom electronic music by placing a premium on songwriting and foregrounding his own capable voice. Occasionally he treads on more established touchstones, such as on the haunting "Paralysed," where a mournful, meandering piano recalls "Amnesiac"-era Radiohead.

But as a body of work, Tremors is in rarified territory: consistent without feeling one-note. Most of its songs are self-contained four-minute dramas, building from quiet beginnings to cathartic denouement. Bittersweet ruminations on love and heartbreak fall like pearls along the way.

It's not likely that any of these songs will catch fire at radio, or turn SOHN into a household name overnight. Single "Artifice" is the set's closest thing to a crossover track, although it's missing the requisite big pop hook. But that's a relative weak point for a triple-threat talent. Now that SOHN has a promising debut under his belt, his ship is still just leaving port. Get onboard or watch him make waves.


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