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Sohn – 'Tremors' album review

A debut record of night-owl electronics that's both soulful and solipstistic

Some of the greatest artists in history have been night owls: Kafka sat down at his writing desk around 11pm, Proust sometimes breakfasted as late as 6pm, and judging by his love lyrics, Dylan seems to have had a pretty productive relationship with insomnia. So when London-born, Vienna-based producer Sohn decided to make his debut album in the wee small hours, he was in good creative company.

Every night for seven weeks, the singer and multi-instrumentalist locked himself in his studio from 6pm to 6am. At dawn he’d emerge with a working mix and walk the hour-long journey home, listening to his night’s work as the sun rose over the empty city. Although Sohn partly made his name (whatever that is – he’s still anonymous) producing other people’s epics – ‘Last Stand’ by Kwabs, Banks’s ‘Waiting Game’, Lana Del Rey’s ‘Ride’ – ‘Tremors’ is a strikingly sealed world, the sound of one man alone in a sleeping metropolis with his instruments and his id.

The comparisons to James Blake, The Weeknd and Sbtrkt all hold. Sohn makes aching, minimal electronica with an ambient gleam, dubstep bass and a forlorn falsetto. But his command of space can be breathtaking and makes his organic percussive details and intense lyrics stand out in stark relief. The soul-sized voice is something else, elevating him, when it slips its moorings and sails several octaves one minute into opener ‘Tempest’, from ‘serious artist’ to ‘seriously special’.

Chopped vocals circle through ‘The Wheel’, which includes the opening line ‘I died a week ago’ and a noise like a chorus line of clogging skeletons. ‘Artifice’ is a buzzing slice of syncopated R&B about mislaying your identity in a relationship. ‘Bloodflows’, beautifully lovelorn and liquescent, feels like a minimalist comedown classic, while ‘Lights’ and ‘Veto’ play subtle with big pop melodies.

But you need to listen on headphones around 4am, preferably in the lonely light of an anglepoise, to get the full impact of the switchblade percussion and startling, Thom Yorke-ish vocals on tracks such as album centrepiece ‘Paralysed’. ‘Tremors’ may be smooth, soulful, cool – even tasteful – but listen close and it’s all serious-fucking-qualms-before-the-dawn edge. What do you think of ‘Tremors’? Let us know in the comments box below or tweet us at @TimeOutMusic.

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