Album review: Jlin’s “Dark Energy” stays true to its name

by Cameron Seibold

seiboldca@mnstate.edu

While footwork is a relatively new genre, it’s fairly easy to see that most footwork artists are playing it safe and following a potentially stale formula. Find a sample, throw in some 808 percussion, and voila — the next battle track is born. Sampling is nothing new, but it takes creativity to make a sample one’s own, and with a genre like footwork that heavily relies on 808 percussion (a drum machine that has been used in many genres since the 80s) it’s important to come up with a sound palette that complements the drums and remains original.

In Gary, Indiana (a town 20 miles south of footwork mecca Chicago, Illinois) artist Jlin holds the controversial belief that this formulaic way of working is “so easy.”

When asked by her mother, “It’s cool to sample, but what do you sound like?,” Jlin set out, determined to answer this question. The result is “Dark Energy”, an incredibly well-produced and fresh album of footwork tracks.

Jlin has taken the footwork formula and made it entirely her own. On “Dark Energy,” she uses almost no samples (apart from vocal samples), choosing instead to come up with a sonic palette all on her own, using everything around her including her own voice, piano, synthesizers and even a Chinese erhu violin. The sound design is truly on it’s own level compared to the rest of the footwork scene. Her tempos are faster (some reaching a blazingly fast 190 bpm), her kicks hit harder, and her snares feel like a staple gun to the ear.

This concerted effort and push for originality has paid off, delivering an album entirely unique in the world of footwork. It throws off the safe formulas many artists in the scene rely on, while keeping all the trademarks of the genre. This is the album the genre needed to push forward into a new creative phase.

Track “Unknown Tongues” leads with the droning Chinese erhu violin and brutally breaks into a frantic triplet-driven onslaught of percussion, vocal snippets, and more broken down erhu. “Guantanamo” starts off with an eerie vocal sample of “The Ring.”

“You don’t want to hurt anyone…but I do, and I’m sorry” kicks off another brutal attack of hi-hats, toms, and unrelenting white noise flares. Each track hits incredibly hard, but allows for brief moments of space in the sound, which is an important contrast to have. Jlin knows how to structure a track in an interesting and listenable way.

According to Jlin, the tracks on “Dark Energy” are produced “from a place that is “in the belly of the beast.” She uses the frantic tempo and arhythmic percussion of her chosen genre to her advantage in expressing these dark feelings. 

The album is true to it’s name, with a consistent dark energy to its sound. It’s ferociously aggressive and contains an amazing sense of tension and discordance. Each track has a pent up anger that sounds like a machine gun firing fists instead of bullets.

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