Sonen at Drunken Unicorn

Sonen is a three-piece band in Atlanta that creates simple, heavy beats and laces them with synths in such a way that they end up constructing the solid platform on which they can play with instrumental and vocal melodies. They’re one the coolest musical experiments happening in this town.

I feel like Sonen’s been a little absent for much of this year. I knew that they were writing and recording a new record, so patiently I assumed nothing, waited and then childishly anticipated this show that happened at Drunken Unicorn last week. They opened a bill that was followed by Death of Paris – sweet kids from South Carolina who have some rad recordings, but didn’t impress me that night the way I wanted them to. The night was headlined by heavy-handed, darkwave locals Attention System. Their headlining position was rightfully situated, and they brought a super professional, fast-paced motion of a show to the stage, accompanied by strategically programmed lights and an encompassing crowd that had no problem waiting until the depths of the night to see them play.

Despite Attention System’s command of the show, I was most interested in Sonen’s set. They were to play the new record in its entirety, and I couldn’t wait to hear what they’d created. They went on fairly early; I missed the first tune and waltzed in during “Upside Down.” A few immediate impressions sank in. The sound, the bass in the bass, was loud as hell and heavy. From the door, I flashed back to walking in on White Ring at Hotel Vegas and that feeling of helplessly dark, brooding, booming love came swimming back. Sonen are more experimental live now, I’m convinced. Though the setup hasn’t changed that much, and the instrumentation is pretty basic, the way in which they are now layering those pieces seems more testy to me.

Sonen’s got some newfound atypical song structures to demonstrate, where parts seem to flow through one another, sometimes fuzzy (thanks to the cranked low end) and sometimes clear. It’s as if they took a bunch of sequences and just drug them down an octave. Melodies are like ice now, and they’re constructing vocals that seem to emerge and regress more naturally, more effortlessly than before. This could be chalked up to simple band maturity, and the fact that they played a lot more shows last year. But I think they paid a little more attention to vocal parts this time, and that translates well live. I like the vocals that hang over at the end, and cut through beat patterns, traversing those. Holly’s super high vocals remind me of Liz Harper coupled with the nature of the programming. I realize that I’m used to Holly and Keith’s dual style, and maybe that makes me feel familiarity with a completely foreign set.

The second to last tune, “Aiko,” is a favorite. There’s a nice clunk when Keith plays bass against the synth as it drops in and out. “Two of You,” which is slated to be the single, is the closing song. It’s a less dark addition in general, but the beat is super heavy and that continued ‘double bass’ play thickens what is simple in a creative manner. Even when the song breaks out to heavier synth bass, the double makes it feel alive. Sonen delivers a sweet yet lighter ending. I was super satisfied with the set and felt tingly optimism for their future.

Set list:
I Want it All
Upside Down
Ice Planet
Honey Cave
Arpline (working title)
Two of You