Jlin seems like an interesting lady. The steelworker based in Gary, Indiana doesn’t go to house shows or even write her songs with dancing or being happy in mind. Dark Energy is her confident debut. Its frenzied sound and combative tone more than satisfies footwork’s ‘go hard or don’t go at all’ style while creating a cerebral vibe that’s uncommon for albums with this many BPMs.
It’s possible to listen to Dark Energy and think ‘so that’s why we don’t put toasters in washing machines’. The speed is relentless and every track has a few visceral moments. According to Jlin, “My musical sense of expression comes from sadness, and anger. I can’t create from a happy place. It seems pointless in my opinion. I don’t make the tracks as much as I feel them. Creating for me is about feeling and impact”. The sense of impact is on every song is undeniable. The mood is certainly dark but not so bleak that you can’t have fun with this record playing. Dark Energy is just a rare footwork album where the cerebral elements are more apparent than its dance floor appeal.
“Black Ballet” could have soundtracked any dream sequence in Black Swan. Its pulsing beat and light orchestral synths that gradually increase in speed make the song’s menacing intensity inviting. “Black Diamond” is the most segmented track on the album. Instead of building to a sonic breaking point, the lack of fluidly mirrors a verse/chorus/verse structure. Its not catchy but it is a danceable song.
Jlin further cultivates the titular Dark Energy through brief yet effective vocal samples. Choice moments from The Ring and Mommy Dearest appear in “Guantanamo” and “Abnormal Restriction”. The latter ends the album with a quote that would have probably been memed if that were a thing when the movie came out. “I’m not one of your fans. Who do you think you’re talking to” combined with a man saying, “You don’t want to hurt anyone” and a girl replying “Oh yes I do” in a song called “Guantanamo” evokes a sense of trauma on varying scales. These samples help contextualize the sense of pain, loss, or anxiety that’s lurking in the background of every composition. Titles like “Guantanamo” and “Mansa Musa” point the audience towards history, inviting them to think deeper while immersive beats drive them inward. In this way Dark Energy is a meditation on the chaos that follows a painful experience, be it internal, public, or historical. Jlin’s debut lives up to its name. Dark Energy captures frustration in sound. There are moments a DJ could use in the right setting, though most will probably enjoy it as a raw expression of emotions not normally associated with footwork.