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THE LEANO – Steps to Leanoland

Posted: April 19th, 2006, by Andrew Bryers

For a CD chosen at random from a box at a party, this did not bode well. The cover depicts the artist in the style of one of those rastaman cartoons that in poster form adorn the bedroom walls of adolescent boys between Jordan and “Take Me To Your Dealer”. There’s a track called “Ganjaholic”, for fuck sake.

So, to the Leano, Sri Lankan-origin, London-based MC whose debut album this is, I owe an apology of sorts: this shit ain’t bad. “Steps to Leanoland” is 13 tracks of fuzzy dub/hip-hop beats, nice stripped-down production and Mr. L himself rhyming away with brains and some panache on a variety of ISSUES. Musically, we’re paddling in the same murky waters as Roots Manuva, although what the Leano lacks in the former’s abstract and inventive wordplay he tries to make up in the breadth of his ideas. So on “Twisted Tongues”, he sensitively dissects the identity crisis of a second-generation immigrant, caught between a mother culture he can’t fully understand and an adopted country which keeps him at arms length. “Sex and Lies” uses a sweet little twisted piano loop to challenge media-created myths of male sexuality; which frankly isn’t a debate you’ll hear 50 Cent contributing to any time soon. In fact, sexual dysfunction runs like a thread right through the album from the almost scarily honest account of a paranoia-fuelled impotence attack on “They Don’t Know What We Know”, to the confession “Doctor, doctor I’ve got a psychological error/Every time I wank I see the same terror” on “Messing With My Mind”. The Leano may be in sore need of a couch and a detailed psychoanalysis of his childhood (or maybe just to lay off the smoke a little), but it sure as hell beats the kind of alpha-male fantasy willy-jousting that dominates so much of the genre.

Having said all this, the real problem with this album is the growing sense you get a few tracks in that it’s not really going anywhere, that the meandering pace and gentle musing is all there is. Our boy never really breaks a sweat throughout, even on the more up-tempo “Music We Love” which has a shot at jungle but can’t really muster up the energy. On “Rolling River”, a dirge about how we’re all part of the same, y’know, consciousness, he seems so dangerously close to the kind of Groove Armada coffee table chillerama that sells sports cars to junior managers, that you find yourself wanting to poke the lethargic bugger with a stick until he yelps and yodels like Ol’ Dirty “Captain Beefheart of Rap” Bastard. That might just be me though… And while the link between cannabis use and wooly, half-baked, slightly paranoid social analysis may not have been conclusively established, the references to TV “brainwashng” everyone and money turning us all into “robots” on this album will certainly give the researchers something to go on.

The Leano’s clearly got a lot to say and the brains to say it – even “Ganjaholic”, the source of my earlier misgivings, turns out to be a thoughtful little reggae ditty about the life of a homeless guy in Hull – but after a few tracks it all starts to seem a little pedestrian. I recommend a two-week boot camp at the Public Enemy school of political agitation to give the young man some direction. Still, as those familiar with my sense of humour will know, no album with a line like “I flow/ Like the faeces that flows from ma arse/Ya know ya know the smell when ya pass/Yes!” will be entirely wasted on me.

Andrew Bryers

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