Wen - EPHEM:ERA

  • Elegant, stripped-back grime loops from the UK artist.
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  • On Wen's last EP, 2017's Carve + Gaze, the aggression and pressure of Owen Darby's dubstep- and grime-inspired music seemed to have melted away, leaving something more elegant in its wake. The emphasis had shifted towards melody and space, the beginnings of a sea change completed on his latest LP, EPHEM:ERA. Described as a series of "temporal pauses," the LP is made up of severe vignettes that shimmer brightly, focusing on one idea and then snuffing themselves out. Drawing out sketches and blueprints without filling in the blanks, Darby shows that the foundations can be alluring all on their own. EPHEM:ERA is also said to be inspired partly by changing weather patterns—shifts that appear to happen instantly or suddenly, but are ultimately cyclical. Darby writes his tracks with that in mind. On "Time II Think," a riff repeats over and over as a skipping rhythm intermittently locks into a house beat. On "Rain," the bassline seems to move at its own pace beneath bleepy synths that surface like condensation. "Blips," first released last year, plays out the same melody through a variety of different synth patches. It's cyclical but unpredictable, driving home its simple melody through sheer repetition until it's imprinted on your brain. "Blips" remains one of Darby's most striking tracks, and its formula is repeated a few times on EPHEM:ERA. Compare it with "Void," where the recurring melodies are reinforced by stronger drums and tripped-out sounds that render it anxious and unsure. Darby uses effects and samples liberally, from the intriguing to the clichéd, such as the breaking-glass samples that have become something of a punchline in experimental club music. He's most impressive at his most minimal, where the effects make all the difference. Take the heavily flanged drums on "Off-Kilter"—the processing makes an elementary device feel multi-faceted. The album's approach falters on "Glint" and "Grit," which are too bare-bones for their own good. Where the patterns on the LP's best tracks become hypnotic, even psychedelic, these two feel like repetitions of the same few bars. That's the risk when you're making music this reduced. Some tracks are merely the sum of their parts, while others coalesce into something transcendent. Darby has always had a good grasp on what makes this music so addictive. EPHEM:ERA just looks at it from a different perspective, highlighting the curvatures of grime's fundamentals.
  • Tracklist
      01. Silhouette 02. Glisten 03. Time II Think 04. Rain 05. Blips 06. Void 07. Curve_Relay 08. Grit 09. Off-Kilter 10. Sun Thru Blinds 11. Schoene 12. Diverse