Every so often a musical experience comes out of left field and smacks you right in the heart. I had heard one or two of SOHN’s more upbeat tracks at a friend’s house before – I wasn’t familiar, but I was enticed. He impressed me as a lightweight version of James Blake and I wanted to see if he was the real deal.
His presence, even in promotional material, is sad and enigmatic. I could never get a read on him. Despite being scheduled on the same night as critical darling Flying Lotus, this show sold out months ago. Fans waited anxiously as low-end drones were tested immediately before SOHN’s set. The opener – though lovely and quite innovative – didn’t really pack the punch. We were all ready for the main event.
When the curtains rise, minimal beams of light incase the three musicians. Toph Taylor aka SOHN sits center stage with a drummer on his left and a guitarist on his right. Each man works a hefty board of sequencers and mixers as well. This is no simple operation – this performance is calculated organization of sound and effects. They create the vibe and the ambiance of the album right in front of you. It was absolutely mesmerizing to watch.
On stage, Taylor is a unique and striking creature. He moves with grace and intention. From beneath an elegant cape/hood piece, his voice rings out with delicious clarity and distinct tone. As anticipated – there is something sad to his character. But it’s more thoughtful, nostalgic and wistful than downright sadness. (He also bares an insane resemblance to Ben Foster, very possible that they were separated at birth). SOHN expertly blends his soulful tone with abstract electronic elements in a way that simultaneously warms my heart and gives me chills. Evocative and expressive, this music has a direct line to the heart.
Minimal production highlighted the stark sound perfectly. Flashes of lights and solid, unmoving beams framed the performance and allowed the versatility needed to accompany the varying dynamics of SOHN’s work. As he cruised through his brilliant new album, SOHN’s sound fluctuates from overwhelming layers of sonic structure to a lone acapella melody with a repeater on it. The diversity of his musical vision is truly staggering.
The packed audience sang along with his more melodic tracks like “Tremors” and “The Wheel” – not a single word was missed. We all danced along to the radio-ready “Artiface”, which bears a distinct resemblance to the early genius of Mutemath. However, my favorite moments came during the more complex tracks that rely heavily on effects and layering – “Tempest” was downright hypnotizing. He knows exactly the restraint needed. Exactly how long to let the silence hold.
After a flawless set, the soft-spoken SOHN returned for a much-deserved encore and dropped the most beautiful bomb of the entire night: “Lessons”. It was a masterpiece. Intricate layers of harmonies accent the dark and dizzying beats underneath. In this moment I knew that my assessment had been way off-base. While he definitely possesses stylistic similarities to the breathtaking music of James Blake, there is NOTHING lightweight about SOHN. While he plays, there is a distinct feeling in the air that the room is just barely containing all of the sound—it could boil over at any second. If you’re a fan of deep, dark, low-end love songs or expertly layered self-recorded samples, I would like to introduce you to SOHN. Your new best friend.