- Yu Su's daydreamy debut album delivers.
- Before she moved to Vancouver for university in 2014, Yu Su had never really heard electronic music. "I had no idea what rave was," she told Bradley Zero, until she checked out one of Mood Hut's parties, Love Dancing. That crew and their many inspired local peers fed into Yu Su's already rich pool of musical loves: '80s new wave, Chinese pop, minimalist greats like Steve Reich and Laurie Anderson, classical composers like Debussy and Liszt (she says she was steeped in classical music "before my body was even formed in my mom's belly"). Another part of her adopted home blew her mind as well: nature. Vancouver is surrounded by the Pacific ocean on one side and forested mountains on the other. In the small Chinese city where she grew up, Yu Su reckons she'd never even laid on grass. All of these things, from the Pacific Northwest landscapes to the music of the so-called Canadian Riviera to the the daily cultural differences she experienced as a Chinese person in Canada, fed into the excellent run of EPs she released since then.
With Yellow River Blue, Yu Su's first full-length, this musical journey comes full circle. She produced the album during and after a 2019 tour that took her across mainland China—according to the notes on Bandcamp, it was "written and recorded at home in Seattle, Los Angeles, Kaifeng, Shanghai, Vancouver, Mesachie Lake and Chemainus between August 2019 to March 2020." If moving to Vancouver introduced Yu Su to electronic music, this tour made her feel connected to electronic artists and communities in her home country. In addition to coming out on Music From Memory (whose sub-label, Second Circle, released her excellent Roll With The Punches EP), it arrives as the first release on bié Records, a label she cofounded, partly to ensure her music is available in China.
Yellow River Blue plays like a musical travel diary, conjuring a new imaginary space with each track, then moving on. Some are breezy and full of light, like "Melaleuca," with its locomotive beat and soaring arpeggios. Others are more humid and low-lit, like "Klein," a track that's part krautrock, part Mo'Wax-style trip-hop. On my personal favorite, "Gleam," a beat like a creaky wheelbarrow rolls through what I can only see as a misty forest scene, conjured up with cooing pads and the sound of water dripping in huge, sonorous drops—maybe some of Su's field recordings. It just kind of drifts along, always moving but never headed anywhere in particular. There is no payoff moment, no tension and release to speak of. Like all of these songs, it's more about being there than getting there.
You never know what to expect from one track to the next, something that's clear from the beginning. The opener is "Xiu," a soaring, eminently hummable (and, in fact, partly hummed) new wave instrumental, followed by the swampy dub of "Futuro" and the beautiful, moonlight-on-the-water ambience of "Touch-Me-Not." The album keeps curving side to side like this right through to the end. And yet, each of these turns is soft and intuitive, unexpected but not surprising. The end result is unified in its daydreamy mood. What we get from each track, and from all of them together, is a mellow sense of the sublime.
08. Melaleuca (At Night)