Lena Willikens Phantom Delia - XLR8R

Lena Willikens Phantom Delia

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In the five years that Lena Willikens has been a resident at Salon Des Amateurs—a small-ish nightclub in Dusseldorf with an interior halfway between a barbershop and a sleek hotel lobby—the Cologne-based DJ has earned a reputation for playing strange, sensual dance music best enjoyed in the shadows. Her debut EP, a six-track EP for Cómeme, is a product both of this unique environment and her influences—which, as followers of her Sentimental Flashback show on Radio Cómeme will attest, are every bit as esoteric as her DJ sets. Over the years, industrial music from Spain, '70s African funk, rare Japanese soundtracks, and other obscure sounds have all been featured on Willikens' hour-long podcasts.

Set in this context, Phantom Delia carries an expectation to reflect this diversity, which is perhaps unfair. As it is, the scope of this EP's ambition is necessarily narrower than her panoramic style in the booth, and so Phantom Delia is, essentially, a collection of house records possessed of a typically Cómeme-ish quirkiness. That said, a good portion of the EP is what one might call DJ friendly—only the sleepy spoken word on the new wave-ish "Nilpferd" and the woozy ambient passage of "Phantom Delia" falls short of that admittedly unromantic taxonomy.

"Howlin Lupus," the first song on the EP, is a hypnagogic dirge that hums like an electricity pylon. Its howls and grunts dance around the track's sharpened handclaps and droning synths while the song's bassy Casio stabs seem to draw the surrounding elements downwards, creating a sticky, somewhat humid atmosphere.

Elsewhere, the contours of Phantom Delia's other tracks are fortified with a similar sort of appealingly murky gumminess—on "Asphalt Kobold," a buzzing synth squirms its way through a thicket of bleeps and drum sounds. There's not that much of a melody to hold on to, but, like all great records, "Asphalt Kobald"'s prickly textures become more inviting over time. "Mari Ori" is perhaps the easiest of the lot to grasp onto; its haunted house melodies skip across a blistering array of Chicago drum patterns—replete with cowbells and jaw-loosening toms—tuned for maximum impact.

When Phantom Delia turns in on itself, it's equally compelling. "Noya Noya" again finds Willikens drenching her machines in muck; only the rat-a-tat handclaps manage to escape the swamp of rumbling synths and bubbling noises at its core. "Phantom Delia" indulges the EP's black heart more than any other track—its distinctly funereal tone is underscored by pale, irregular bleeps spluttering out of what sounds like a faulty life support machine.

Phantom Delia is a pretty dark trip, but it feels alive with ideas. Its boggy soundscapes can feel a bit congested at first, but unpacking the EP's ornate details reveals a playfulness that reflects the spirit, if not the range, of Willikens' more established DJ persona. All in all, as debut EPs go, Phantom Delia is pretty impressive.