Jlin 2024
Photo: Lawrence Agyei / Backspin Promotions

Jlin’s Sonic Palette Defies Gravity and Genre on ‘Akoma’

On Jlin’s Akoma, composers long recognized for their innovations, such as Philip Glass, the Kronos Quartet, and Björk, are pulled into her orbit.

Planet Mu
22 March 2024

In a 2018 Red Bull Music Academy interview, Jerrilynn Patton, better known as Jlin, states, “It takes audacity to be authentic.” It’s an observation she makes while discussing anyone from Philip Glass to Sade to Eartha Kitt. But she most certainly acknowledges her compositional legitimacy as she continues to craft music of radical originality, rhythmic dexterity, and global authority beyond genre or geography. Yes, early on, she created a track for Planet Mu‘s Bangs and Works Vol 2, and yep, the word “footwork” has followed her, at least where journalists are concerned, so much so that I’ll go ahead and send my apologies for even using the term here.

Because that’s not what Jlin’s music is about. Instead, she uses 21st-century technology to craft thunderously percussive, often jittery music that swats genres away like flies. That it can still influence furious, spontaneous street-level dance moves only allows that particular physical expression further recognition for the high art that it is. On Akoma, composers long recognized for their innovations, such as Glass, the Kronos Quartet, and Björk, are pulled into her orbit. As if she needed any of their recognition for some sort of compositional validity her music hasn’t already insisted on.

“Summon” is a case in point. Perhaps the most “string-section-esque” track here and the Kronos Quartet aren’t even on this one. Instead, there’s an ominous metallic dread that could be an orchestra, complete with percussion chimes and brassy low-end. It all rides along on a pulse as calculated as it is relentless. Until it suddenly decides not to. “Open Canvas”, with shifts in rhythms and sonic colors that seem to be forever opening and closing doors in swift succession before settling onto something not quite lounge-jazz smooth, latches onto hunks of melody repeatedly before nudging us into rhythmic shifts that keep popping out of Jlin’s sonic cake.

Sure, there are grooves; Akoma is a less musically frantic record than 2017’s Black Origami. “Eye Im” has what might be a steadier pulse than she usually allows her music, as what nearly sounds like steel drums lead a series of grunts and occasional vocal glossolalia that conjures Afro-Cuban ritual music. And yes, that is Phillip Glass’s minimalist piano cutting through the frenetic blur on “The Precision of Infinity”. But his efforts get gussied up in Jlin’s not-so-settled groove. He’s at her service, his innovations moving concurrently with her compositional sensibilities.

While lightning-fast 808s are often at the heart of Jlin’s palette, she generates vividly visual music. She is constantly connected, consciously or not, with more rooted folk forms, from Ghanaian Ewe drumming and dance to Haitian funereal brass bands. Her results sound like none of that, but somewhere, underneath the layers of beats and snippets of melody, she tosses off like corn husks, dwells fossils, and bones with stories to tell us.

RATING 8 / 10