Jlin: Black Origami

Black Origami is not an album you can sink into; attempting to do so is like trying to sleep on a bed of steel wires. Yet it is a challenging, demanding, and wholly edifying work of rhythmic art.


Black Origami

Label: Planet Mu
US Release Date: 2017-05-19
UK Release Date: 2017-05-19

In its relentless assault on the senses, it's easy to mistake the sound of Black Origami as chaos. While Jlin's sophomore album can indeed be overwhelming, however, it is in fact quite the opposite. Gary, Indiana producer Jerrilynn Patton creates highly ordered, even regimented rhythmic movements that jab at the listener from all angles, its parts always shifting while retaining a fundamental synchronicity with one another. The album is a masterstroke of sheer timing, and while rarely a comfortable listen, it is an impressive, even stunning artistic statement.

The album's heavy emphasis on percussion may be jarring even to fans of electronic subgenres like drum and bass, and particularly those unacquainted with the Chicago battle-dance of footwork. Black Origami focuses on a dueling interplay between organic, Djembe-like drumming and synthetic beats. The title track and album opener "Black Origami", with its retro electronic elements like something out of an old school arcade game, is about as whimsical and dressed-up as it gets. More often, the only adornments to speak of beyond the percussion are subtle sub-bass and spliced vocal snippets, which typically serve more as sonic punctuation than melody.

Tracks like "Enigma" and "Nandi" are a case in point: the vocals here are chopped, displaced sounds of human exertion, bringing to mind a martial artist releasing a powerful yet targeted blow. They land, and then land again; as a listener, it's easy to feel like a punching bag being entirely obliterated by Jlin's assiduous technique. The relentless and repetitive nature of these tracks can certainly be hard to swallow, even more so on the Holly Herndon collaboration "1%", which sounds like being trapped in a glitching, self-destructing mainframe. Even so, Jlin exercises such precision and commitment to her aesthetic that it's hard to fault these tracks for their occasional inaccessibility.

Indeed, among the defining characteristics that come to mind regarding Black Origami, discipline stands out in particular. The discipline it surely required to craft such an intricate and nuanced statement, yes, but also that evoked by the music itself. There is something unmistakably martial about many of these numbers: "Hatshepsut" and "Challenge (To Be Continued)" both suggest a unit in formation, displays of both strength and coordination. The snare drums in both tracks have an almost ceremonial quality to them, like an ode to the heroic or an elegy to the fallen.

The album is often so tight that it can feel claustrophobic. Yet Jlin provides occasional moments in which to breathe, even if only just enough to keep you from suffocating entirely. "Holy Child" and "Calcination" make use of negative space more so than other tracks here, letting gaps of near-silence linger briefly or at least simply slowing the pace down a bit. "Carbon 7 (161)" features chilly bursts of sound like wisps of crystallized breath; on an album of inhales, this feels like a rare moment of release, even if it remains surrounded by the same jittery, processed electronics that evoke such unease.

Black Origami is not an album you can sink into; attempting to do so is like trying to sleep on a bed of steel wires. It is, quite simply, not for everyone. This is an important feature of the album's excellence, however. Jlin has no interest in pleasing anyone, in particular, focusing instead on perfecting her technique and adhering faithfully to her influences and interests. Fans of footwork and devotees of percussion will be sure to gravitate to this achievement, and it will likely earn her some crossover followers as well. It is a challenging and demanding, yet wholly edifying, work of rhythmic art.


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Photo courtesy of Matador Records

The indie rock genre is wide and unwieldy, but the musicians selected here share an awareness of one's place on the cultural-historical timeline.

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