Grooves are good. There are just no two ways around it: when it comes to grooves, there is a Universal Truth, and it is that they are Good. This theorem is well evidenced on SOHN's first record, Tremors, as it was always at its best when the grooves were present in full force. Christopher Michael Taylor is a solid enough songwriter and a pretty excellent producer, but his first record saw him falling into the same sleepy tracks, with enough of the tracks rendering themselves forgettable to keep Tremors from being a great record, instead of a pretty good one.
Rennen avoids these pitfalls, using an expanded palette in terms of songwriting, structure, and instrumentation to very pleasing effect. The record opens with a real one-two punch of a mission statement, as "Hard Liquor" introduces the groovier side of SOHN's so-called PBR&B songwriting that will be showcased throughout the record. His more subdued brand of electronica-heavy R&B production is enlivened by a heavy injection of soul, most of it having more in common with "Artifice" than the rest of the much more thoughtful and quiet Tremors. "Conrad," easily one of the record's standout tracks, introduces a bit of live instrumentation, new to SOHN's agenda and smartly used throughout a few of Rennen's tracks (something else that sets it apart from its predecessor in an exciting way). The full moon drums blend perfectly with the rest of SOHN's aural agenda, and help highlight one of the things that made the first album as exciting as it was: Christopher Michael Taylor is a hell of a producer.
Even the more quiet moments are more successful on Rennen than they were on Tremors. While SOHN's first record doesn't necessarily have any tracks that are outright skippable, it does have a few that tend to blend together. Forgettability isn't a problem that Rennen finds itself dealing with: each record has a unique identity and does at least one thing that makes it worth remembering. "Primary" builds beautifully, climbing from the slow and thoughtful pairing of Taylor's voice with an electric piano to the pattering and hushed flurry of its galloping beat.
Maybe the only thing Rennen doesn't stick is its landing, in fact. Penultimate track "Still Waters" doesn't exactly go anywhere, rendering what could have perhaps been a textured and layered exercise in vocal atmospherics in the vein of Bon Iver or James Blake uninteresting and muted. Finale "Harbor" closes the album with a hard-hitting buzzsaw of a synth line, but it's a repeated riff that is completely divorced from the forgettable song that comes before it, which takes a lot of the air out of what should have been a powerful and emotional build, had it been executed properly. If the first half of "Harbor" actually had any meaning to it, and if it felt more connected to its finale, it would be impressive. The back half of the song is comprised entirely of one repeated synth line, and its a good one...but it means nothing on its own.
The sophomore slump is a tough thing to avoid, but with Rennen, SOHN has dodged it with an impressive dexterity. Christopher Michael Taylor has introduced a variety of new sounds to SOHN's palette, utilizing a number of new ideas and textures, all to very pleasing results. Having expanded his sound and carefully focused his songwriting, his second record shows that he knows exactly what he's doing.