If you were to make a film inspired by Black Origami, you’d have to shoot with a handheld camera. The second album from Gary, Indiana producer Jlin (née Jerrilyn Patton) is a volatile, intense listen. Even the moments that aren’t saturated with activity keep you on edge, as there’s no telling when a track could take a turn and several more after that.
Much like Dark Energy, Jlin’s excellent debut from 2015, Black Origami kicks off suspiciously clean. The initial synth tone of the title track is so playful, that anyone familiar with her past work will know it can’t possibly last. Sure enough, the arrangement becomes increasingly tense, with tones reminiscent of Forest Swords intermingling with synth and percussive lines that sound like they’re fighting for dominance. A gong rings out with some regularity, perhaps to let us know how much impact one strong statement can make over many lesser ones.
While many experimental albums are easier to understand as they progress, and the artist allows you to explore the world they’ve created, Black Origami is a special case in that familiarity with it through multiple listens hasn’t done anything to lessen the tension it creates. Rather than throwing the listener into a half-hearted mystical void, Jlin has instead created an incredible hyperreality. She eased us into this on her debut, wherein samples from the likes of the 1981 film Mommie Dearest found a shared universe with propulsive footwork. On this album, she colors everything with so much disorientation, it makes you realize how relatively calming hearing Faye Dunaway scream, “No wire hangers!” could be.
Perhaps one of the greatest sources of tension on Black Origami is not knowing what shade of tense it’s going to be. From track-to-track, Jlin shifts moods with enough subtlety to sustain a through line but enough variation to prevent the album from ever losing your attention. On ‘Enigma’, vocal samples stutter furiously (sounding like they’re saying “bagels” ad nauseum at one point). On ‘Kyanite’, carnivalistic tones feel like the soundtrack to a bad acid trip in a fun house. The appropriately-titled ‘Holy Child’ has a solemn, religious feel, but the hard-hitting drums against the mournful vocal chants create a metaphysical war between the mysterious glory of an afterlife and the realities we can’t escape. It’s as though Jlin took the principles of witch house and sought to give them more pertinent meaning.
Despite the erratic nature of the album, Black Origami does feel very much like a journey. Like a sort of electronic Alice in Wonderland, each new development makes you understand this environment a little bit more, even if it’ll never completely add up. While it’s difficult to make sense of the album on a track-by-track basis, it becomes easier to comprehend when viewed in groupings. On the 12-track album, the first third is the one in which Jlin understandably sets out to grab your attention the most. In the middle, she doesn’t completely let up on energy or tension, as demonstrated by the militaristic drum rolls and whistle on ‘Hatshepsut’ or the sounds like wind howls on ‘Carbon 7 (161)’. However, she does pull things back a bit, like on the haunting sort-of interlude, ‘Calcination’, in which a mesmerizing soprano drifts alongside thumping percussion.
If the middle of Black Origami is the least striking, it almost seems like a necessity in order to properly prepare you for the end of the album, where the ferocity is increased to an almost unbearable degree. On ‘Nandi’, a deadpan “yep” is looped to the point of sounding as percussive as the actual drums. It’s such a densely-packed song, the sound of desperate panting towards the end qualifies as a source of relief, as it makes you feel like you’ve escaped from something harrowing, even if there are worse things to come. Sure enough, very next track ‘1%’ offers a child with the grim declaration of “you’re all going to die down here” along with a phone operator’s message that makes the romantic anguish of The Replacements’ ‘Answering Machine’ seem comforting by comparison. It’s only fair that penultimate track ‘Never Created, Never Destroyed’ is the loosest track on the album, sounding like a note of appreciation from Jlin to any footwork diehards for sticking with her for this long.
On closing track with a not-so final title ‘Challenge (To Be Continued)’, Jlin pulls out all the punches with drum rolls, whistles, and vocal commands of “kill ‘em!” They’re more or less elements that she has presented in previous amalgamations on the album, mixed with new ones like the trumpeting of an elephant, but it doesn’t feel like anything is being rehashed. In the last thirty seconds of the album, something incredible happens. Everything essentially stops for a moment, and then we’re treated again to drum rolls, whistles and a closing vocal command of “kill ‘em!” The slight dip has a tremendous effect of creating a sensation of being caught off guard by this album when you least expect it, in a way you would never imagine.
Black Origami is a demanding and at times overwhelming listen. If you listen to it in a tranquil state of mind, you’re likely to be a bit on edge by the time it wraps up, and if you’re tense going in, you might be in shock halfway through ‘Nandi’. But, as dizzying as it can be, it’s also greatly admirable in how Jlin refuses to offer any compromises on the sonic impact. This is not the work of somebody wanting to shortcut their way into making “atmospheric” music by cutting and pasting old ideas. Rather, it’s the mark of someone establishing their unique authorship with the utmost certitude.