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EP Review: 'Xnoir' By J!n

Yaseen El Azzouni goes all out in his SceneNoise debut, taking us through J!n's latest EP, Xnoir.

It’s not baseless to say that online image is everything. For musicians, the divide between the image an artist presents of their work and personality, in contrast to the reality of the artist themselves, is easily exploitable. It allows the creation of elaborate stage personas: the somber introverted hipster, the rebellious punk rocker, the party animal DJ, and everything in between. It is something truly rare to find an artist who manages to disconnect from this world of carefully crafted personas and just focus on the music. 

A byproduct of the Internet, Hana Yousry (a.k.a J!n)’s music is rife with Japanese imagery, computer jargon, and that glazed-over-eyes look you get after staring at a computer screen for too long. Incorporating elements of ambient Electronic music - à la early Aphex Twin - the abrasive percussive textures of IDM, and elements of Chill-out, J!n’s homegrown style is a refreshing change of pace from the khabt that dominates the Egyptian music scene, and strays into even darker sonic territories. With only a handful of known public performances, and a blisteringly fast release rate, J!n embodies the disjointed, reclusive, and melancholic spirit of the post-digital era; best heard through a thick haze of smoke and under the dim light of a computer screen. 

First appearing in 2013 with the release of a series of singles, J!n has been steadily making waves amongst electronic music fans and producers alike, even branching out into collaborative territory through her record Bus#609 with rap artist Bambam. Xnoir marks J!n’s third EP release of the year, following Citrus and Decent Bitchez. In Xnoir, J!n has come a long way, evolving and expanding upon the metallic vocals and abstract ambient soundscapes heard in her previous work.

The opening track, Skye, immediately establishes the sonic aesthetic of the record; icy, cavernous keys soaked in reverb fill the mix and slowly rise in volume as J!n’s haunting vocals drift in and out, twisting and modulating into an almost trance-like crooning. J!n uses her voice not only for singing, but as an instrument to be recorded, sampled, and manipulated to fit into the greater framework of her music. Near the latter half of the song, flourishing saxophones, a clean bass, and distant, panned snares subtly drive up the pace, setting the tempo for the rest of the project.

In Sea.wasp, a thick pulsating chorus accompanies a zombie-like rhythm of synthetic drums and rattling high hats that drive the track forward through whirling synth swells and echoes of pitched percussion. Bursts of steam-like white noise contrast another heartbreakingly soulful saxophone, which returns from Skye and is ever present throughout the EP, save for the final track krxst. Here, a buzzing lead synthesizer takes over from the saxes and, along with some bouncing electronic chords, draw us deeper into J!n’s digitised world. 

Track four, Saltee, may be one of the less accessible tracks on Xnoir, at least to a mainstream audience. The slow instrumental breakdown near the middle of the piece, one of the EP’s highlights, is preceded and succeeded by robotic vocals that tread the thin line between poignant and gratingly abrasive.

The title track is as sonically dark as its name would suggest; a growling deep bass and a heavy, mechanical, drum kit couple with J!n’s ethereal whisperings and take the listener on a headfirst dive into the digital depths of the Internet. Xnoir is unflinchingly direct, and the brutal thump of the kick drum is sure to wake even the most heavy-eyed listener.

Xnoir, as a whole, is J!n’s most instrumentally cohesive work yet, and seasoned listeners will find a refreshing pleasure in the recurring saxophone motifs and live instrumentation that are all too rare in ambient music. While similarly sounding drum samples and patterns may initially seem compositionally similar on a track-by-track basis, they do not diminish the overall effectiveness of the EP, and even allow the individual tracks of Xnoir to be perceived as one long and interconnected work. J!n’s progression of her own unique sound is intriguing to follow, and while the ambient music as a whole may not be everyone’s cup of chai, Xnoir is a must-listen that at once both soothes and challenges the ear of even the most adventurous listener.

Main image retrieved from Facebook, Photo by Jason Weller.