Jlin – Akoma

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most anticipated albums of spring 2024 - Jlin Akoma

There exist electronica fans of a certain age who can remind Gen Z et al. of how titans of that particular genre made pivotal connections to and corruptions of rap music. You can hear the overlap in Autechre’s early pathfinding mixtapes, the punch of Boards of Canada’s first EP Hi Scores, Nightmares on Wax as a duo sampling Newcleus, or finding “Apache” tucked into selected ambient works. On her newest album Akoma, Jlin does more than claim (and reclaim) the mantle of that work. She tightens her grip on the crown she already holds by going for distance, using her roots in footwork music to leave Earth’s orbit altogether.

It’s kind of wild to think that despite a schedule that has spread her influence outward from Gary, Indiana for almost 15 years, Akoma marks only the third time Jlin’s released an LP with no immediate tie-in or album-length collaboration. Most of her music refreshes in different ways for different reasons; here the initial reaction is to just feel good, maybe even relieved, to hear her unfettered by EP time restraints or commitments to other artists. And then the actual songs like “Speed of Darkness” swarm and settle around you, relentlessly, recursively inventive.

The album’s name is derived from West African adinkra symbology meaning “heart,” and Jlin here wants to connect nature’s original drum to all manner of constructed and virtual ones, even tuned instruments tapped or played in rhythm. Her features and inspirations come from ancient drums, HBCU marching bands, Third Coast Percussion-style found sound, Bjork’s glitched voice on “Borealis,” even failing wind-up mechanisms from children’s toys and music boxes. You can tell that the leading keyboard line of a song like “Grannie’s Cherry Pie” is glitched to shit, and yet it still feels like a proper composition in the manner of Aphex Twin’s Drukqs.

Likewise, the gurgling synth/stuttering beat contrast of “Auset” and the horror-film industrialism of “Summon” could also be mistaken for cuts from massive albums of the 1990s. Elsewhere, “Challenge (To Be Continued II)” and “Eye Am” form a one-two punch of fast and slow percussive exploration, respectively. That Akoma manages to bang this many skins without feeling disjointed or exhausting is a testament to Jlin’s gilded sense of arrangement and timing. Even the flanged reggae-toaster samples throughout are no accident, popping up like a guide in the wilderness, reassuring you that you’re on the right path.

Despite the long historical axis of places like Detroit, New York, London, and Bristol tying together DJ setups and digital instruments, there’s clearly a danger in saying that these songs transcend footwork and hip-hop, a threat of culture erasure in homogenizing the work into IDM specifically and electronica or dance music broadly. All I can tell you is that between last year’s Perspective EP and Akoma now, Jlin clearly isn’t here to make your mama’s music. The heart of these songs may not always beat as fast as footwork of the past, but it beats stronger than ever.

Label: Planet Mu

Year: 2024

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