Jlin’s highly anticipated second release, Black Origami, delivers another knockout punch to follow up her debut from 2015. The title echoes that of Dark Energy and features an origami elephant in dark monochrome on the cover. This suits the music with its heavy gravitas (the bass) yet delicate raw materials (the fine drum and cymbal work throughout) to construct something of profound dark beauty.
Although not quite traditional footwork, Jlin has helped to popularize the sound beginning with her 2012 debut single Erotic Heat. Dark Energy brought her international attention and accolades, enabling the former steel worker from Indiana in mid-west U.S.A. to finally quit her day job at the end of 2015. Perhaps like Perth’s own Pendulum with drum and bass in the 2000s, Jlin is testament that armed with good musical ideas and cutting-edge production via the latest music software, youngsters anywhere in the world are capable of bum-rushing a musical scene, forever changing it with their own take on the basic forms of the genre.
The new LP continues to push beat science to extreme levels, with Jlin drifting even further away from the footwork grid. Black Origami is a drummer’s delight, incorporating intricate percussive work drawn from a palette of sounds such as Middle Eastern hand drums, trap and footwork snares and a wide range of tom-tom timbres. In the higher register of the cymbals, bright hi-hats, crashes, splashes, bells and even a gong are employed. These busy percussive elements tap out different lines, time stretching and interlocking to great effect.
Jlin’s percussive lines tend to have a lilting quality to them, possibly owing to the sheer number of drum strokes. But combined with judiciously placed pauses, changes of direction and varied drum and cymbal sounds, it produces a halting flow that draws you in to follow along. An example is Nyakinyua Rise, which builds up gradually from multiple rhythmic elements, and once at full force the rhythms never stop shifting and transforming throughout its duration. You can almost make out recognizable verses, choruses and bridges that come and go, but such classic song structures don’t really apply to Jlin’s abstract creations. Some of the tracks sound uncannily like a raucous U.S.-style marching band, with a multitude of drummers thwacking away with loud exuberant whistles interjected by a band leader. This sound is especially evident on tracks such as Hatshepsut and Challenge (To Be Continued).
On the other end of the audible spectrum, aficionados of bass bin workouts won’t be disappointed by Black Origami. Most of the tracks work on the dub principle of the main melody being carried on the bass line such as Kyanite. Granted, some of the bass notes are massive booms/thuds of low frequencies that can nevertheless pound out a toe-tapping melody and are also capable of mutating into shape-shifting drones of extremely low frequencies. Make no mistake, like a lot of bass-heavy music such as dub reggae and jungle, a decent stereo or headphones that represents the bottom end faithfully is necessary to hear this music properly.
Between the frenetic drumming draped in a tinsel of cymbals and the throbbing low end bass lines are the samples that give voice to the tracks. These vocal samples have been sliced and diced to such an extent that the original words are usually completely unintelligible. These fragments are repeated in a stutter-like fashion to build tension within the tracks, often with a call-and-response feel, then peeling off for release before arcing up again. Jlin works these vocal snippets to hypnotic effect, combining them with the ebb and flow of the percussion and bass lines, driving the tracks forward.
Samples that involve more traditional whole phrase grabs are used only sparingly on Black Origami (in contrast to Dark Energy), giving the album a more serious, head-down work ethic feel than its predecessor. A nice touch on several tracks are the Middle Eastern-style vocals that feature on Holy Child (with contributions from drone-loop master William Basinski) and the excellent Nandi with its mesmerising hall of mirrors effects on the vocals.
Although the tracks are built with disparate sound elements in the percussion, vocals and bass lines, it’s the interaction among them where something special begins to happen and that makes Jlin’s music so enjoyable to listen to. If there’s a downside to Black Origami it’s that the tracks tend to be somewhat similar to each other over a wide swath of the album, unlike Dark Energy that varied the tempo more. Although the slightly less hurried middle tracks Calcination and Carbon 7 (161) serve to break up the LP, the never-let-up nature of the beats can induce a kind of percussive overload on the listener. Not an issue for the dedicated footworker or junglist, but a possibility for the less beat-focussed.
However, the variety switches up nicely for the album’s last three tracks. Standout track 1% will bring a smile to fans of mid-2000s dub step with its Pac-Man sounds, trap beats, fried circuit synth stabs, pounding bass lines and twisted samples. Never Created, Never Destroyed continues with skittering beats under a cut-up toasting vocal with the distinctive Ironside sample from Kill Bill laced in, and Challenge (To Be Continued) further brings an expansive track structure featuring the sampled call of “challenge!”. These last three tracks bring diversity to the LP as well as a bit of wicked humour to bring some levity to the proceedings and lighten the weight of the beats somewhat.
Jlin has crafted yet another engaging beat album for fans of dub step, footwork, jungle and other styles of dance music. The abstract folding and stretching of such a wide range of sounds will also appeal to the more adventurous experimental listeners as well. With Black Origami, Jlin may have just knocked off DJ Shadow, recent visitor to Perth, from the throne of best-drummer-never-to-have-picked-up-a-pair-of-sticks.