Blissfully logging off and tuning in to Sui Zhen.
Sometimes music comes into your life when you need an escape. Save for the Pokemon resurgence, the social climate as of late has been bleak and despondent. In times like these, music can serve as an oasis. Enter Secretly Susan: the shimmery album from Melbourne-based writer and producer Sui Zhen. Originally released a year ago in Australia, the album is now available in the U.S., allowing a new crop of alternative pop fans to get lost in her world right when the real one is becoming hard to bear.
Calling Secretly Susan a pop album is misleading. Unlike most pop music, Sui Zhen’s songs aren’t thirsty for your attention. She’s content to sail by en route to her own world. While you’re certainly invited to explore with her, she’s not dumbing herself down to be more palpable. Secretly Susan, produced entirely by Sui Zhen herself, skates from dub, chillwave, bossa nova, and ye-ye pop, swirling them all together and sprinkling her sweet coos on top. The project reminds me of Rainbow Chan’s 2013 EP Long Vacation in its jazzy moments, and there’s hints of the latest Grimes album as well. The track “Going Away” has some Beach House haze, with her layered backing vocals merging with the reverb-heavy synths. “Teenage Years” starts and ends with the sound of water lapping on the shore, and its breezy charm makes up for its overdone intro sample (anyone remember seapunk?). “Take it Back” and “Dear Teri” are torch songs that deserve to be performed in a rooftop lounge overlooking the ocean, preferably during a sunset. The line “No one’s making the first move” in “Hanging On” has all the offbeat charm of Hannah Diamond. Each line of the song is a hook, yet Sui Zhen hides her pop instincts deftly under bongo drums and syncopated keyboards. The arch production reflects Zhen’s forced coyness when the objects of her affection don't hit her up on Friday like they discussed. “Nonchalant / Nonchalant for you / Nonchalant is all I can do,” Zhen sings, not wanting to reach out and seem too interested. Her blank façade never falters and her Zen nature is infectious. On “Safari” she makes the error message, “Safari can’t find the internet” sound like a blissful release that ignorance can sometimes be. In a world where the Internet is filled with fresh examples of horror, Sui Zhen finds peace in logging off. Amidst the sounds of birdcalls, the album ends with Sui Zhen finding comfort in the feeling of sand in between her toes. Play this album to find your own vacation.
Listen to Sui Zhen on bandcamp.
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Mo Wilson is a writer who enjoys collecting posters and still has a CD player. You can find him on twitter @sadgayfriendx.