Black Origami (2017)

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Opener ‘Black Origami’ skitters and bangs with cascading chimes, breathy female vocals, scarab percussion, sonorous bass. Some North African sounds in the synths are joined by thumping hand percussion and claps – encircling instrumentation, reminds me of the inclusive medley of Africa Express’ rendition of Terry Riley’s In C. It’s a statement of intent as far as instrumental diversity goes, expanding the palette from Dark Energy but retaining that propulsive and relentless drive derived from footwork, a genre which Jlin seems to have transformed almost beyond recognition.

Love the mechanically rapid toms and serpentine shakers on ‘Enigma’ – succinct summation of the power of combining manual sounds and mechanical production. Looped vocal sample definitely cleaves to the DJ Rashad archetypal footwork style. Far more stripped back melodically with plenty of negative space, which reminds me of more British bass music trends like SOPHIE’s skeletal pop madness.

Middle Eastern synths on ‘Kyanite’ and perhaps South Asian vocal samples, although its hard to say given how fragmentary they are – poring over the sounds, some mysteriously partial some perfectly and entirely captured and repurposed. Gut-tightening revved synths introduced near the end, enhancing the aggressive feel of this opening stretch; does have that rollercoaster feel of entertainment done to you. These opening three tracks are distinct mostly in the geographical traditions they evoke. There’s a lot of similarity in the linear structures; they’re more like a sequenced stretch, an evolving kaleidoscopic trip for which we remain sharply awake.

‘Holy Child’ opens the B side with the surprisingly distinctive stamp of William Basinski on the sampled vocals (they do remind me of the mood on his recent, meditatively funereal release A Shadow In Time), which are much more foregrounded giving the track a more distinctive melodic component; the same distinctive approach is inflected in a more cerebral, less physical direction. ‘Nyakinyua Rise’ splits this difference in Jlin’s sound by shifting completely in the other direction, being almost completely percussion and bass – thumping snares and bruising shouts – until about halfway with the arrival of a vocal which could be sampled from a Japanese combat video game. It’s easy to sit here and narrate the album’s compositional diversity and complexity, but the effect of Jlin’s painstaking editing is to keep BO fresh in a way that few footwork albums or comps succeed at.

Buzzsaw synths on ‘Hatsheput’ recall the revving on ‘Kyanite’, though they’re much more foundational here, playing with that balance between fragmented and holistic sampling (which I usually associated mainly with percussively looped vocals, in footwork) (actually those ‘Kyanite’ revs do return; ‘H’ is probably the least distinctive track on BO.

If the album’s first half – with the exception of standout ‘Holy Child’ – finds ways to adapt and tinker with the same formula, the same new musical vocabulary, the second half brings it back with a crashing series of diversions and deviations which ramp up into an explosive finish. Short centrepiece ‘Calcination’ skulks with dubbed-out echoes which are transmuted into the to the fidgety atmosphere of ‘Carbon 7 (161)’; here spacey synths and rolling drum presets nod to Pearson Sound and Mark Pritchard (goes to show, with ‘Enigma’ especially, how much of an understated influence UK bass music has on BO).

‘Nandi’ shudders with opening M.I.A-style vocal blasts, increasing the building sense of threat since BO‘s midpoint with some percussion slathered in echo and reverb. We’re then attacked with the album’s violent zenith, Holly Herndon-collab ‘1%’, which finds a way to make US dubstep sound relevant in 2017 by dispersing its trademark peak/trough structure across an unrelentingly linear assault. Cartoonish and video-game samples, dial tones and answerphone messages, and a creepy vocal from a young girl play off each other perfectly in a Nintendo nightmare, a Bullet Hell abstraction.

‘Never Created, Never Destroyed’ does the same thing for trap, dialling down the genre’s obnoxious predilection for weapon-sound samples into the most fragmentary and suggestive shards, while tumbling through complex rhythms with the kind of spontaneous playfulness that made Aphex Twin’s inclusion of Jlin’s stuff in his recent DJ sets unsurprising (the vinyl release appears to have two different takes on this track, too). It’s hard as nails, a perfect gritty counterpoint to the fantasy madness of ‘1%’. BO leaves us with ‘Challenge (To Be Continued)’, whose title seems to reference Jlin’s opinion that music should be progressive and difficult to make. It’s an absolutely orgiastic cacophony of percussion, with some synoptic (there’s an elephant on it) cross-polination of geographical influences  and a return to the encircling communality of the album’s openers through human shouts and whistles.

This is a big step up from DE: the template is expanded and enriched while remaining distinctive, pushing African, Middle Eastern, Far Eastern and South Asian sounds through the structural signature of footwork. It’s out on Planet Mu and I think the buried influences of UK bass and IDM have been underplayed; BO makes a convincing case for footwork as a central and connected piece in the jigsaw landscape of contemporary Western electronic music. It balances ascetic precision with an omnivorous and maximalist palette, tweaking and adjusting its way through 44 minutes of extremely fun and pumped up bass music. It’s hard not to gravitate especially towards the more eye-catching 5 or 6 bookending tracks (as well as ‘Holy Child’) but the parabolic flow of BO gives it a lasting appeal as an album played the whole way through.

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