Editor's note: for technical reasons, my name appears on this article's byline. The review below actually comes courtesy of Tim Sanders, who you can find on Twitter here. Enjoy!
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Sonic landscaper WEN has carved himself a unique musical identity over the years. Since his early Tempa releases, and building up towards his debut album Signals, it was clear the Kent producer had exponential growth and talent. His music evokes vivid imagery; the listener is immediately transported to smoky pirate radio stations, dark warehouse raves and eerie side streets.
On sophomore album EPHEM:ERA, WEN opens the curtains, and light floods through these previously dark and cold environments – it’s the morning after to Signals’ night before. The hard-hitting bass is still ever-present in this work, but it’s complemented with soft high ends, delicate bells and an altogether lighter ambience that runs throughout.
EPHEM:ERA starts off with the scene-setting "SILHOUETTE". It’s a great example of little details having big effects, from the multi-layering of the ambience down to the off-kilter strings. Within two minutes, this album has shown more depth than most releases this year.
"GLISTEN" is a masterclass in intricacy: we hear chimes falling almost in perfect order, with sparse snares peppering the soundscape. The track elevates the listener with its weightless energy, but we are brought reassuringly back down with "TIME II THINK" with its hollow bells and slow-building rhythm of kicks, giving indication of a change in tempo.
The album moves into "RAIN", a spacey track made up of only a few elements; it’s a change of mood, slowing things down again with bold minimalism. This is the perfect track to set up "BLIPS", a previously-released track from CARVE + GLAZE that gets a resubmission almost to remind us of how good it is. The occasional sampling of Jammer's voice throughout the song is so synonymous with WEN’s style – subtle yet effective nods to grime and other UK genres.
"VOID" is packed with variation; WEN introduces new instruments, new sounds and new themes almost every switch. Into "CURVE_RELAY" and we see a diversity of percussion that keeps the melody firmly grounded. A similar format is used for "GRIT", with a great polarity of mids, high end and percussion.
We experience another switch in the mood with "OFF_KILTER", a percussion-heavy stomper where the sparsity of low end is swapped for sporadic melodies. "SUN THRU BLINDS" draws largely from the same pool of sounds, giving balance and flow to the album – only to be interrupted by the occasional MC sample, with which we are now well-acquainted.
The tail end of the album sees simplicity in "SCHOENE", a short track combining peaceful keys with jarring, intermittent white noise as a reminder of the album’s weight. And finally, we are treated to a celebration of WEN’s style with "DIVERSE", a track threatening to break into something very heavy; but always holding back in that sinister way only WEN can achieve.