Jakob's Album Reviews

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Jlin — Black Origami — ALBUM REVIEW

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I first came across Gary, Indiana-based experimental electronic music producer Jerrilynn Patton back when she released her 2015 debut album on Planet Mu, “Dark Energy.” This album, under Patton’s stage-name Jlin, marked an interesting progression for the ever-burgeoning (but never quite mainstream) sub-genre of electronic/dance/hip-hop music known as “footwork” or, alternatively, “juke.” This is a sample-heavy, repetitious style of dance music that has been pioneered by and improved upon by artists such as the late DJ Rashad, DJ Spinn, and RP Boo. I found Jlin’s debut to be an interesting and unique project, but it didn’t stick with me as much as I wanted it to. Jlin’s music showed potential, and she’s been teasing up to the release of “Black Origami,” her sophomore full-length, with some exciting EPs and singles. Let’s see if her acclaimed new album lives up to the hype.

This record begins with its eponymous track, a layered work featuring some obscure synths which wouldn’t sound out of place on a Foodman record. It’s a heady track that sets the tone for the album with its slightly-off vocal samples, shrill synth leads, and intense drum fills. Jlin’s music is very percussive, making use of all sorts of drum sounds. The nature of this track is one I would describe as chaotic and noisy, yet structured. Still, it’s disorienting in all the right ways, even if it’s not the most satisfying or memorable song on this album.

“Enigma,” the second song on the album, continues down this trend of progressive footwork. All sorts of untraceable sounds color the mix here, with a chopped vocal sample repeating rhythmically in syncopation with the rest of the track. I can only imagine that the collection of samples for this album was painstaking. As much as I want to enjoy this song, though, it seems to present yet another example of Jlin preferring her chosen style over crafting substantial songs. It starts, it advances, it ends, and I don’t remember much of it when it’s over.

I do really dig the next song on the album, “Kyanite,” which is a lot more hardhitting and dancey than the previous two songs. It sounds like a more Afrocentric variety of the sort of stuff PC Music would release, and I think it’s one of Jlin’s most successful experiments. It has an infectious, rumbling bass and a decidedly bonkers lead melody. It’s an obscure bit of noise pop that is neither noise nor pop, with a bizarre vocal sample that I think was put to more creative use than some of the other samples in some of the other songs. It also includes what can only be described as a producer tag. Just like you know a Metro Boomin beat from the iconic tag “If young Metro don’t trust you I’m gon’ shoot you,” you know a Jlin song from the booming “Sounds of J, sounds of J, sounds of J” refrain that pops up occasionally.

The next track, “Holy Child,” is even better than the one that precedes it for many of the same reasons. It has a more creatively used vocal sample, a dancey rhythm, and electronic drums so unrelenting that this sounds like something an experimental grime rapper would try their hands at freestyling over. Hell, it sounds like something you’d hear on a Busdriver or Clipping album. It’s full of weird sounds, but it doesn’t seem to be weird for weird’s sake. As the album’s first third comes to a close, I’m hoping that the quality material will continue despite the somewhat flaccid (by comparison) first two songs.

“Nyakinyua Rise” is a song I recognize from a 2-song EP Jlin dropped earlier this year. I enjoyed that track when I first heard it, and I especially enjoy it in the context of “Black Origami,” which, the more I think about it, the more accurate of an album title that is. This track, too, nicely sets the tone for the album’s intricacies. You’re getting a lot of drums here. I can’t imagine how long it took for Jlin to program and record the drums for this project, but it especially pays off here. As usual, it’s hard to make heads or tails of what the sounds and samples you’re hearing could possibly be, but the atmosphere evoked by this track is simultaneously tribal, pastoral, dystopian, and futuristic. It’s not difficult to picture a kid doing spontaneous hand-dances to this track at a Jlin show while rolling on some high-quality MDMA.

“Hatshepsut” kicks off with polyrhythmic drum circle vibes, introducing some buzzsaw synths subtly as the track progresses. It’s the album’s longest song, and it sort of feels like it. I think this track feels a tad directionless compared to the 1-2-3 punch of the last few songs. It isn’t anchored by a strong vocal sample, and it sort of meanders around the same rhythm for its entirety, periodically introducing and interchanging other sounds to vary things up a bit. This track may be named after the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty of Egypt, but you wouldn’t guess its regal beginnings from its slightly bland execution.

“Calcination” is essentially an interlude track that kicks off the album’s B-side. I feel like this song should have been titled “Hatshepsut” instead, with its quiet beauty and air of mystery. It’s also fairly inconsequential, and I think it would’ve worked better as something for Ishmael Butler to rap over on a Shabazz Palaces record. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t really serve as a logical segue into the next track, “Carbon 7 (161).”

That’s a damn shame because “Carbon 7 (161)” is another highlight for me. I like the bits of synthesized noise that pop up through out, as well as the more ominous vocal samples that are used throughout. It’s one of the more ominous tracks in the tracklisting, with a compelling structure and unique use of sound.

“Nandi” is somewhat of an outlier in the bunch. It has some punchy synth chords that might not sound place on a synthpop album (if all synthpop was inspired by the music of Autechre). I don’t think I am in love with this song the way I am with others, because it seems to suffer from the same fate as the album’s first couple tracks, but it’s more for this track’s forgettable nature than anything else. I just don’t see this one as one I would return to again.

Things crank up several notches with the track “1%,” though. Damn, what a fucking banger. Again, I can’t help but be reminded of the distorted squelches of one of SOPHIE’s productions or something released through PC Music, but there is still a distinct atmosphere Jlin brings to the table through her complex, glitchy electronics. It also bears some resemblances to Death Grips’ 2015 album “The Powers That B,” specifically the more experimental first disc. This track more than any other also sounds vaguely reminiscent of grime, the UK sub-genre of hip-hop that has grown in popularity in the U.S. in recent years. Not to bog this track down in meaningless comparisons though, because Jlin brings an aggressive, infectious energy to this track that makes you want to dance to it, except you can’t really figure out the rhythm so you gyrate rhythmically until the 3:47 mark, when it ends.

And, as much as I dislike the use of the term “hype” as an adjective in a music review, the track “Never Created, Never Destroyed” totally embodies that term. It’s more straightforward than “1%” while being just as hard-hitting with its avant interpretation of trap-style hip-hop production with the added element of the footwork inspiration. And how could you not experience total hype breakdown within your lizard brain hearing those “Kill Bill” sirens put to such brilliantly subtle use? The more I listen to this track, the more I enjoy it, and the more I lament that more songs from the rest of the album didn’t grab me with such urgency.

The final track, “Challenge (To Be Continued),” seems to give us a glimpse of what’s to come. It sounds like a bunch of people took DMT and decided to hold a seance. It’s a riotous, explosive closing track with whistles, hand percussion, and a repeated sample that yells “Kill him!” I think in many ways it succeeds where the eponymous opening track fails. It is a disorienting, occasionally frightening track that is also fun to listen and groove to. I wish Jlin gave us a more conclusive ending instead of a cliffhanger, but it does have me eager for her next release, whether it’s an album or an EP.

Overall, I have mixed feelings on this album. Nothing on it is terrible or even mediocre, and some of it is fantastic. One of this album’s fatal flaws is its flow. Few of these tracks enforce each other all that well, leaving “Black Origami” to sound like a mixtape rather than a sophomore LP. And while there are some great songs on here, the ones that aren’t pale in comparison. They simply aren’t as memorable or exciting as some of the album’s highlights.

I think that “Black Origami” features some of Jlin’s best material to date, but overall, I don’t think the album works quite as well as “Dark Energy,” which is a disappointment. There didn’t seem to be much of a flow to these tracks nor did there seem to be much of a purpose with this album. I think a more well organized effort from Jlin could result in a truly astounding full-length album, but despite the fact that I do like this album, I don’t think this is the best (or last) we will hear from her.

SCORE — 6.25 out of 10

FAVORITE TRACKS — Kyanite, Holy Child, Nyakinyua Rise, Carbon 7 (161), 1%, Never Created Never Destroyed, Challenge (To Be Continued)

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