Lena: Floating Roots

Born in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) in 1973 and weaned on the sounds of disco, reggae, zouk and Congolese rumba, Mathias Delplanque (aka Lena, an alias inspired by Lena Grove, a character in Faulkner's Light In August) produces a deep dub-techno that crosses the Berlin minimalism of Stefan Betke (pre- Pole, that is) with the classic stylings of Lee Perry. The Pole influence is clearly evident on “Under False Rulers” even if Delplanque's approach is less abstract than Betke's. Comparatively, Delplanque sounds more focused on a purer dub style, even if one still produced using contemporary electronic means.

While he peppered his 2002 debut Lena with insect noises, they're replaced on the follow-up with contributions by MCs Tablloyd and Black Sifichi. As a result, the album's vocal and instrumental tracks split down the middle at five apiece (Tablloyd's wordless musing is sufficiently submerged in the opener to count as an instrumental). The uniformly excellent non-vocal tracks include “Wax Model,” whose clanks, whirrs, and smears swim in a grandly spacious mix of laconic grooves, and “Smoke Screen,” where minimal Rhodes touches lead a languid charge of snare thwacks and electronic burblings. The title cut is all resonant echo and warm rollicking grooves, while “Mountain Dub” appears twice, the first exuding a vaguely euphoric vibe while Daniel Meteo's (one-half of Bus) remix extends the song's palette using lush orchestral flavourings.

On the vocal side, Black Sifichi's low growl adds a dark twist to the propulsive groove of “Storm Blowin.” His (sole) appearance is effective enough, but problems arise with Tablloyd on the mic. His spoken contribution to the percussion-heavy “Cap of Sound” is palatable but, like a bothersome fly spoiling a fine meal, his undistinguished vocalizing mars “Under False Rulers” while his patois distracts on “Wah Gwan?” If only Delplanque had excluded vocals altogether, as without them Floating Roots would impress as a near-perfect collection of robust (if somewhat derivative) digi-dub.

December 2004