- A killer techno LP from one of the genre's leading artists.
- A few Fridays ago, I went to XOYO in London for one of Ben UFO's residency nights. In the back half of his set, before he handed over to the night's guest, DJ Stingray, he played "Tasser," a track from Wet Will Always Dry, Blawan's debut album. It was a moment. Not because the crowd completely lost their shit, but because the track sounded unlike anything else I heard that night. It's worth considering how difficult this is to achieve as a techno artist. Like most of his peers, Jamie Roberts works within a simple framework that's been established for around 30 years. Only a small number of artists ever attain an instantly recognisable sonic identity. Roberts is among them.
This identity has passed through a few distinct phases, each linked by a crispy tonal quality with an aggressive emphasis on the upper mid-range. There was no hint that on Wet Will Always Dry Roberts would look back to the sample-driven club bombs he used to make. But his recent lower tempo experiments as Bored Young Adults and Kilner suggested he was trying out styles that would suit an eventual album. What we get instead is a doubling down on the gritty modular techno he's been developing through his label, Ternesc, a decision that mostly pays off.
Roberts has a preternatural feel for tonal manipulation and sound design, which is how he's managed to produce an album of eight techno bangers with enough dynamism to grip the attention. There's an enormous amount to admire here. On a simple level, "Tasser" and "Vented" are among the strongest club tracks Roberts has written. They both have the sort of direct impact that makes people groan with pleasure on a dance floor. It's the production details, though, that makes them satisfying headphone listens. "Vented" in particular is a mass of peculiar shifting tones, and the extended horror-movie breakdown is icing on the cake. There's an alien orchestra of synths on "North," but equally as impressive is the kick drum, which Roberts expertly shapes with a just hint of reverb. It's unclear if Roberts wrote the entire record using only his modular rig, but the tracks' elements all live in striking harmony.
Roberts sings on a couple of tracks, but this isn't the headline news it sounds like. On "Careless" he ghosts through the bleak arrangement with a single line drowned in reverb. (More notable is just how sick the lead synth is.) "Stell," the other vocal cut, lets in a rare bit of light, as Roberts harmonises with the melody. Along with "Kalosi," which comes next, it's the only thing that falls short of the alchemy found elsewhere on the record. A moment of respite at this point in the album instead may have been useful.
Wet Will Always Dry could have been a double EP, but an album release at least shines a brighter spotlight on one of modern techno's leading artists. Developments in the scene in recent years have mostly arrived through fusions. Industrial and EBM influences have added some '80s swagger. '90s breakbeats and ideas from the hardcore continuum have reshaped rhythms. As Wet Will Always Dry proves, Blawan has pushed things forward by showing that the traditional techno template can still be sculpted in surprising new forms.