Genres that are defined by a highly rigid compositional formula arguably run the risk of suffering from a lack of individuality amongst the artists working within that particular style. At the same time, however, those artists who are able to adhere to this strict stylistic blueprint, whilst nevertheless effectively exploring new and definitive ways to advance the sound or toy with it in a particularly inventive fashion, are typically recognised and lauded within their music scenes for their pioneering attitude towards the genre. In the case of the ghetto house-influenced genre of footwork music, and its emphasis on complex, uptempo rhythms from 808 or 909 drum machines and erratic jazz, R&B and hip hop vocal samples that are chopped up and rearranged beyond recognition, Jerrilynn Patton, known by her recording alias of Jlin, is one such example of an artist who is committed to progressing past a stylistic archetype. The Indiana-based musician’s debut album, 2015’s Dark Energy, saw Jlin take the rhythmic complexity of footwork music to the extreme, which was only fortified by her inclusion of principles associated with IDM, to the point that even the most skilled footwork dancers would struggle not to get their legs in a tangle during a dance battle set to her sounds. What’s more, Patton’s keen eye for detail when it comes to layering and filling out the blank space of footwork’s tense soundscapes resulted in an album that could be enjoyed both on and off the dance floor. Upon the announcement of her sophomore LP, Black Origami, Jlin claimed that it would be “very far left of footwork” and, indeed, this project is arguably just as much an IDM record as it is a footwork record. This being said, the artist is sure to reference, and sometimes amplify, many of the underlying, avant-garde principles of Dark Energy, whilst ironing out the creases that the album occasionally conveyed in its execution. Black Origami, therefore, is similarly frightening, industrial and corrugated when compared to its precursor, but exceedingly intricate, innovative and intensive, showing that Jlin not only embodies the chronicles of footwork music thus far, but also has her ear to the ground when it comes to the genre’s future.
In spite of the dark themes recurrent throughout much of Jlin’s music, with Patton herself even expressing her compositional process as being dauntingly inward-looking, the introductory title track opens with a surprisingly sleek and sprightly synth melody that blissfully bounces around the mix. It’s not long before the tension starts to build, however, with the introduction of a brooding synth bass and jittery, trap-tinged hi-hats, before the suspense is completely cut through by a sharp synth string stab. This marks the point at which typical footwork tropes, such as the sporadic rhythms and syncopated vocal samples, make their way into the mix, but outside of these features, Black Origami is far from a footwork track on a foundational level. The luscious timbre, which sees soaring strings, pulsating synths and a fluttering flute weave between, and interact with, one another, atop some grand, almost tribal-sounding drum work, is more akin to the most decadent works from IDM vanguards like Aphex Twin or Squarepusher. It’s not simply the instrumental arrangement that sees Patton really indulge herself, but the entire structure of the song is as convoluted as its rhythms and as erratic as its vocal samples, twisting and turning through interminable torrents of tortuous passages that come together not in a way that comes across as aimless, but in a way that has clearly been so carefully conceived that it’s a challenge for the listener to keep up at times. In this sense, although Black Origami — both the track and much of the album — deviates drastically from footwork’s foundational features, the entire, overarching philosophy employed by Jlin, which accentuates complexity and volatility above all else, persistently stays true to the tenets of the genre, as far as it may stray stylistically.
Even amidst the stylistic diversity brought to the table by Patton’s collaborators across Black Origami, the fundamentals of footwork remain pervasive throughout, if occasionally in a more subtle manner. Interestingly enough, 1%, which features outside help from experimental electronic producer Holly Herndon, stands out as being far more faithful to footwork than any other track on the record. From the selection of seemingly arbitrary vocal samples that are scattered throughout the cut to the throbbing, uptempo rhythms, 1% is as close to a true blue footwork song as one could expect from a Jlin project, but the influence of Herndon and her artistic obsession with modern technology shines through in the incorporation of telephone beeps and an operator’s disconnection message. Perhaps the most pervasive of Patton’s guest artists on Black Origami is avant-garde auteur William Basinski, with his appearance on the track Holy Child. Primarily known for his groundbreaking project, The Disintegration Loops, and other releases wherein the composer manipulated tape loops to craft haunting ambient soundscapes, Basinski’s contribution to Holy Child comes in the form of a loop of Baltic folk singers that was entrusted to Patton, who chops the sample up in typical footwork fashion, whilst nevertheless retaining the eerie, ambient edge associated with her collaborator’s brand of experimental music. There seem to exist many religious and ritualistic themes across Black Origami, and nowhere is this more evident than on Holy Child, with the gothic singing and whimsical sarangi playing being worked into an atmospheric format that has a distinct ceremonial air to it. Indeed, such culturally rich stylings continue onto many of the record’s deeper cuts and mingle with Jlin’s footwork roots in an endlessly fascinating fashion. As for the ritualistic themes alluded to throughout the tracklisting, Kyanite heavily references the spiritual religious rhythms of Gnawa music, whilst more general percussive principles from broader West Africa are included on Carbon 7 (161) and are applied similarly to the usual rhythmic technicalities of footwork, making for an eclectic track based on the rhythm section alone. On a very different note, Hatshepsut opens with a fierce, military-style percussive ensemble that bleeds into Jlin’s frantic footwork rhythms, as a searing synth lead soars in the mix and slices through the tension. These martial rhythms reappear on the closing cut, Challenge (To Be Continued), but this time with almost no melodic or harmonic accompaniment, with the track’s climax being a triumphant thundering of battle-ready drumming that builds to the point of breaking.
It’s ultimately this sense of musical crossover that makes Black Origami such a spectacle to behold amongst contemporary footwork music, in that Jlin pulls from such esoteric sources and manages to incorporate them into her stylings with such fluidity and adroitness that these marriages feel completely natural. Before hearing Black Origami, there was no reason to suspect that martial music, Baltic folk music or Gnawa music could be assimilated so seamlessly into a genre of 90s Chicago dance music, yet Patton succeeds in doing exactly this, in a bold disregard for stylistic boundaries that leaves certain tracks almost undefinable. Given her artistic growth between Dark Energy and this newest release, we can only begin to imagine the direction in which Jlin will take her eclectic approach to footwork music in the future because, just as it’s often difficult for the listener to keep up with the disorientating complexities of her music, Patton seems to be one step ahead of everyone, and will likely have moved on to an all-new sound by the time we have fully fathomed the intricacies of Black Origami.
The Vinyl Verdict: 8/10