- It's either convenient or very clever that Jlin's first widely released track was called "Erotic Heat." Eroticism—the libidinal urge, trapped and amplified so that it smoulders—is one of the defining characteristics of her music. The other is darkness, and the two come together in Dark Energy's cover image: a chunk of rock, black and raw and smoking, as if squeezed out of the earth under incredible heat and pressure.
This feel is very much Jlin's own. Based not in Chicago but neighbouring Gary, Indiana, she's developed a musical dialect that sets her apart from her footwork peers. For one thing, she mostly foregoes sampling in favour of abrasive digital synthesis. For another, her use of rhythm is unique. Much of footwork's twitchy funk comes from the way different grooves compete for dominance. Jlin favours just one rolling triplet feel, which can stomp along mercilessly or break apart into a mess of whirring tom-toms and hi-hats. The effect is often apocalyptic.
Jlin's debut album builds satisfyingly on the promise of "Erotic Heat." That breakout track is here, sounding as weird and compelling as ever. Its sexual charge surfaces elsewhere too: in the breathy interjections that soften portentous opener "Black Ballet," and in the vocal refrain of "So High," a maddening loop expressing caged, desperate desire rather than euphoric release. (Voices are the only things Jlin does sample, and she does so extensively.) Elsewhere the aggression is purer and steelier. On "Ra," syllables are broken down into tiny shapes and fired off like machinegun bullets. The trance synths on "Expand" sound like a swarm of deadly hornets.
It's tempting to make inferences about all the angry female voices in Jlin's music. At the opening of "Guantanamo," a man says condescendingly, "You don't want to hurt anyone," to which a little girl replies, "But I do… and I'm sorry." Mechanised carnage ensues. Later, another woman yells "Leave me alone!" over and over, intercut with the odd grisly scream. On the brilliant closer, "Abnormal Restriction," a voice screams, "I am not one of your FANS! Who do you think you're talking to?" The grinding cacophony that follows could be Jlin taking a drill to some patronising male peer.
Still, if she's trying to say something in these moments then it's only part of her message. We could just as well talk about the liberal use of video game samples, repurposed as dance-battle goads in the utterly cold "Infrared (Bagua)." Or Jlin's belief that footwork has its roots in Africa, articulated in fiendishly funky conga workout "Black Diamond" and "Mansa Musa," a track named after a 14th century Malian king thought to have been the richest person in human history. Jlin has plenty to say, and she has a remarkably strong and distinctive voice with which to say it.
01. Black Ballet
02. Unknown Tongues
04. Erotic Heat
05. Black Diamond
06. Mansa Musa
07. Infrared (Bagua)
10. So High
11. Abnormal Restriction