For all the new sounds that Jlin introduces and enhances, the most memorable sections in Autobiography have her working with almost nothing at all.
Initially as a participant in the Chicago footwork scene, Jlin made expressive beat music to inspire dancers to weaponize their bodies. Yet by the release of her debut album, Dark Energy, her painstakingly sculpted beats refracted a wider range of influences beyond the battle community that she came up in. The videos for her music, too, used forms of dance beyond footwork to interpret the contorting-yet-graceful physicality of the producer’s tracks. The more she flexed her idiosyncrasies, the more creative avenues opened to present her work.
Autobiography further pushes Jlin’s music into its most ambitious forms to suit a brand new platform. British choreographer Wayne McGregor sought out the producer to provide the soundtrack for his latest project of the same name, in which he based the movements in the performance on his own genome sequence. “It’s pretty brainy, but also very physical,” Dance Magazine explained about the piece, elaborating that, “You have partners, trios and the whole group burrowing into each other, coming together and coming apart.”
That quote also easily describes Jlin’s own work, which tightly folds in various motifs, rhythms and key instruments from different scenes of dance music. But while Dark Energy and its follow-up Black Origami deconstructed outside materials to highlight their core similarities with one another, Autobiography inspires Jlin to adapt in a new environment by expanding her vocabulary. While familiar results still emerge from the process, like the twitchy “Mutation” or the cacophony of “Kundalini,” the producer makes the best of her new setting to take her music to new heights.
A series of new sounds freshen up the experience. Just like her albums, the pieces of Autobiography bend and refit disparate influences from neo-classical to rave into labyrinthine forms. Especially after witnessing the producer pare her music down to its spine in Black Origami, the siren-like synth stabs of “Annotation” and “Permutation” are deeply cut through with brash, audacious textures. The almost weightless sounds dancing around “Carbon 12” and “Blue I” not only soften the usual stark feel of her records; they also highlight the underappreciated grace that guides her heady music.
Jlin’s new focus on the details of her sonic sculptures can be observed from a different angle. Her beats in past records sometimes appeared intensely compressed as a side effect of her reducing such a sprawling range of sounds into a bare essence. She also takes time to sculpt dimension out of the production for Autobiography, and the result is a much fuller rendering that foregrounds the music with a sense of place. The lighter pieces like “Carbon 12,” with its crisp attention to detail, benefit most. Individual elements shine vividly, but they also carry a sense of depth as they faintly echo into the distance.
For all the new sounds that Jlin introduces and enhances, the most memorable sections in Autobiography have her working with almost nothing at all. The interludes as well as the two parts of “Anamesis” remove drums almost entirely, with only a ticking of the clock in “First Interlude (Absence of Measure)” resembling anything like percussion. The absence of the precious instrument marks a great creative departure in form for Jlin, but her choice of evocative, otherworldly sounds as well as her precise attention to mood-building shows the producer still rigorously in control of her new setting.
Jlin cites Autobiography as more a creative detour than an official album. Yet the soundtrack continues the effort of Black Origami to present her music in a new context by stripping away familiar elements, whether it’s her unique toolbox of sounds or her relationship with Chicago footwork. The latter still could be traced in Autobiography, but the album is not entirely defined by its traditions. “The Abyss of Doubt” may inspire images of dance battles, though it’s better understood here as a ferocious piece on how crippling self-doubt can be. Like McGregor, Jlin has been the intellectual sibling of her scene, and this new setting frees the producer to indulge more in her conceptual impulses.