Jlin’s music is rooted in the rhythms of Chicago footwork the way an interstellar mission begins on Earth—it provides the origin point, yes, but as the mission expands ever outward, that shrinking blue dot in the rearview hardly seems relevant. In the years since she broke through to a mass audience with 2015’s Dark Energy, her work hasn’t so much changed shapes as hurtled through light years. 2017’s Black Origami conducted a survey of drum sounds and rhythmic patterns so complete it played like a curtain call for every percussive sound on Earth. The score she composed for Wayne MacGregor’s 2018 ballet Autobiography had more in common with Philip Glass than RP Boo. By now, the Gary, Indiana producer is less a musician than a one-woman genre, absorbing and repurposing whatever dark energies she finds.
And yet, despite her reinventions, there is a pit of bad feeling residing at the center of her work—an alkaline edge of fear, a mingling of arousal and mortal terror—that is inextricable from footwork. She carries this shadow from project to project, even as she furiously sheds skins, accepting commissions from the Met and the Kronos Quartet and collaborating with modern dancers. Footwork battles often resemble bodies contorting themselves through minefields, celebrations of invincibility that carry inside them admissions of extreme vulnerability. These twin forces—vulnerability and invincibility—face off in Jlin’s music like competing weather systems, and you can hear them roiling from the first seconds of her new EP, Embryo.
By her own admission, she wrote these pieces in between commissions, and they have the unfinished edges and openness of sketches. It’s fun to listen to her toying with corroded sounds, degraded outputs: Jlin’s never sounded quite this grimy before. The title track is shrouded in blasts of distortion, like modular synths with a faulty wire, while the thudding beat seems to open a hole beneath your feet. It points towards a dancefloor that some of her recent music has angled away from—you could dance to Black Origami, but with so much furious cross-cutting motion, finding and following a pulse sometimes felt like driving into a blizzard.
The tools here are more tarnished, the world the music conjures danker and more septic than usual. The pistoning drums on “Auto Pilot” and the sepulchral silences surrounding them suggest Detroit techno, a genre where the metaphorical landscape looks a lot like Jlin’s hometown of Gary, Indiana—post-industrialized, made of more emptied-out buildings than people. This sense of solitude is crucial to Jlin’s music: “I have never been to a Chicago footwork battle, ever,” she declared to Red Bull Music Academy, with something like pride. She was too busy working 96-hour work weeks and making tracks in her bedroom.
The final track on the EP is called “Rabbit Hole,” and it starts with a few early-techno blurts into dead space before beginning its descent. The track mimics the act of rabbit holing itself, which has become internet shorthand for the lonely and monomaniacal acquisition of absurdly specific knowledge. Rabbit holes are tiny, cramped, dark, and by nature, they can only accommodate you. You have to emerge to share anything about what you learned—but the act of learning it will forever belong only to you. That is how Jlin’s music explodes in your synapses: a thousand tiny, lonely revelations, yours alone.
Buy: Rough Trade
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