Jlin and the Future Sound of Footwork

From the warped breakbeats of drum ‘n’ bass to the frenetic 808 attack of footwork, the last two decades of electronic music history have been marked by a fetishization of the drums, as technological advances have allowed producers to go ever deeper into rhythmic design.

Black Origami, the remarkable second album from Gary, Indiana, producer Jlin is one of the most important recent developments in the history of electronic percussion, a brilliantly overblown yet mind-glowingly complex album of rhythmic possibility.

Jlin emerged from the world of footwork in the early 2010s with the track “Erotic Heat,” which appeared on volume two of the iconic Bangs & Works compilation series on UK dance label Planet Mu. But if that track was an outlier in the footwork world of dance battles and frenetic DJ cuts, her 2015 debut album Dark Energy would see Jlin gravitate further into her own darkly elegant orbit, incorporating operatic arias (on “Black Ballet”) and Chinese erhu violin (on “Unknown Tongues”).

Black Origami sees Jlin blow open the definition of what footwork can be. You can still feel the influence of footwork producers like DJ Rashad on a track like “1%” (featuring Holly Herndon), with its skittering hi-hats and coal-black synth lines, but elsewhere Jlin widens her global percussive net to take in everything from tabla drums (notably used in electronic music by London producer Talvin Singh) on “Kyanite” to the djembe on “Nyakinyua Rise,” all of which battles against Jlin’s drum-machine finesse in a global-percussion street fight. Jlin also takes on sounds that are closer to home: “Challenge (To Be Continued)” is a brilliant rhythmic tussle between US marching band and footwork hi-hats, while “Hatshepsut” throws a Joey Beltram hoover sound into the mix.

Black Origami is also notable for its eye-opening array of collaborations, which veer several steps into the left field of electronic music. “Holy Child” sees Jlin work with minimalist composer William Basinski, the haunting “Calcination” features the gothic vocals of Fawkes, while the hip hop-ish “Never Created, Never Destroyed” includes vocal work from Cape Town rapper Dope Saint Jude that Jlin chops and splits to her own devices.

Black Origami bears the influence of each of these collaborators and yet it sounds like none of them. It’s a footwork album but only in the very widest sense of what footwork can be. As such, Black Origami resembles—in spirit more than in sound—the work of ’90s electronic-music producers like Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, Photek, and Remarc, who took the chopped up breakbeats of drum ‘n’ bass and pushed them to ridiculous new levels of subatomic complexity, creating something quite revolutionary in its pointillist intensity.

Black Origami is a worthy successor to these names, a jaw-dropping work of percussive complexity that marks out Jlin as a singularly brilliant talent.

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