Jana Rush – Dark Humor
Last year, Chicago’s Jana Rush single handedly pivoted footwork from the streets to the forefront of electronic music innovation. Her masterful album Painful Enlightenment both disrupted and evolved the form, a documentation of the unraveling of her own mental health through jarring, misshapen loops and stylistic mutations. Rush revealed within footwork the remarkable potential to support headier thematic concerns and emotional weight. Her latest ‘mini-album,’ Dark Humor, is an extension of sorts to the “dark experimental listening music” Rush forged on Painful Enlightenment as a means toward healing. Yet, it’s distinct from this in its perspective. This is Rush post-catharsis, gazing back at herself and that pain from a new, more experienced point of view.
It’s telling then that Dark Humor should open with a reworking of one of Painful Enlightment’s most brilliantly disquieting moments, Suicidal Ideation. On the Dark Hallucinations Mix, Rush takes Suicidal Ideation into the realm of near camp horror. Opening with abysmally pitched vocal samples and erratic hi-hats, the track unravels into a syncopation of industrial pistons and scattered drums as a villainous sample of someone laughing maniacally plays out. “You better bow down on both knees,” the final vocal sample on the mix stutters at the end of Rush’s fractured and twisting soundscape. The message is clear: Rush is no longer submissive to her pain. Instead, she is the master of it and will make it bend to her will. Rush revisits another track from her catalog, Break It from 2017’s Pariah. With this remix, she slows the breakneck pace of the original to half-time and throws in some truly filthy bass, making for one of Dark Humor’s most gloriously badass braggadocious moments. These revisited tracks feel most telling of Rush’s intention on Dark Humor. As revisions of her past by her present self, these reclamations serve to re-introduce Rush in this new phase of being.
As suggested by the title, an essential part of this new phase is a rather nuanced sense of humour. On tracks like Make Bitches Cum and Don’t Want No Dick, Rush displays a wry conciseness that may have been present on Painful Enlightenment in hints. Here, it’s at the fore. Don’t Want No Dick is almost Rush’s answer to clowning in footwork, an absurd and obnoxious formulation that pulls apart a 20 Fingers sample, pitching it to comical heights against carnivalesque synths and a manic, farcical BPM. Make Bitches Cum is another dose of braggadocio, but there’s an irony to the way Rush splices and zones in on her samples. Like the way she chops up the sentence “bitch, I want some ass tonight” so that we hear each syllable, pairing it with an ominously serious piano riff that recalls something from the soundtrack of The Exorcist. This element of foolery is most explicitly stated on Clown, a bass heavy track which places focus on its vocal samples, directly telling us that on this record, “tonight the DJ is just a clown.”
Elsewhere, Rush dives further into the jazz-juke hybrids of Painful Enlightenment on Lonely with DJ Paypal. Here, a horn sample is stretched like putty, then chopped and screwed with reckless abandon. Together, Rush and Paypal are a formidable force, having previously delivered two of Painful Enlightenment’s most raucous moments. Lonely recalls Painful Enlightenment more than anything else on this album, particularly in its use of jazz instrumentation as a stand-in for the human voice. A wailing sax becomes the moaning frustration of being left alone and bored.
There’s a far greater focus on the dancefloor than any of her work before this, a continuation of the club instincts Rush first proposed as JA Ru on tracks like FM Bill Track. It’s on here in the bounce of Unk, the heavy sub of Break It, and in the way Rush plays with structure so that most of Dark Humor could fit nicely in a club setting. Dark Humor sees Rush continue to break the boundaries of footwork as a form, delivering a worthy successor to one of last year’s best albums. But this time, there’s a new energy about her, a renewed confidence that allows Rush to play more and think less. Yes, she’s still grappling with some lofty emotional ideas here, but on Dark Humor more so than anything she’s done before, she really just wants to have fun.
Watch the music video for Lonely with DJ Paypal from Dark Humor below.
Follow Jana Rush