Review: Jlin’s ‘Autobiography’ Shows the Electronic Composer Doing More Than Moving Feet
America’s most acclaimed new electronic composer scores a piece by choreographer Wayne McGregor with her cutting-edge synthetic textures and brain-blendering pinball beats. It’s somewhat of a departure from her two critically acclaimed albums – 2015’s Dark Energy and 2017’s Black Origami – where experimental electronc textures met Chicago’s polyrhythmic hurricanes of footwork. Allowed to stretch, she explores a dripping, hard-panning, evocative ambient music made of bamboo clanks, tubular bells, ticking clocks, birds, bugs and splashing water. The intensely layered opener “First Overture (Spiritual Atom)” is like if the Matrix were rendered on Windows 95; closer “Second Interlude (The Choosing)” is a droning piece of nightmare New Age. Elsewhere she explores funky beats (“Annotation” is like trap hi-hats squished into noise) and Steve Reich-ian minimalism (“Carbon 12” is a suite of synthetic cymbals, sleigh bells, voices and booming bass).
However, despite these brave leaps into familiar or beatless worlds, Jlin is still her most jaw-dropping on the tracks that allude to the rhythmic riots of footwork. In fact, even though Jlin’s footwork albums generally stand out for their warmth and nuance, “Unorthodox Elements” and “The Abyss of Doubt” are some of the most aggressive tracks in her catalog: The former inhales with robotic body music like Kraftwerk’s 1986 classic “Boing Boom Tschak,” the latter flickers and stutters with grinding noise and samples from a Samuel Beckett monologue. Gentler footwork banger “Blue I” sounds like its running congas through the footwork blender while vintage Aphex Twin synths drone in the background. A great album of stretching out, proving that her sounds and beats can do more than just make feet tangle.