Yu Su - Yellow River Blue (bié Records, Music From Memory, 2021)
On her debut LP, Yu Su draws from the wells of her ethereal sound to bring forth a highly evocative and enriching audial experience that channels the rhythms of life itself.
Delicateness is and always has been an artform, with its application something that has inspired and tantalised so many producers over the years. Ambient music, with all its range and background acoustics, showed how a light hand and keen ear could lead to sonic environments embracing the listener in its warmth and passiveness, an empty soundscape for which the listener could breath and imprint themselves deep within a cloud kissed sky. Many within alternative and leftfield genres within the 80s and 90s, alongside downtempo, IDM and chillout musicians, would strive to put out music that channeled its way into the relaxed and laid back neurones within the mind, easing the ills and the strains through applications that soothe instantaneously with their water-like breezy feels. The reflective and sombre keys, the taps and fills of the drums, the background tones that prop up and expand or contract dependent on the groove, it's music that appeals to us not just with its melodic or percussive qualities but also its message and its meaning - that dance music can speak to us, its narrative one of inherent depth and complexity. Human beings all experience their own down time moments, and as a soundtrack these kinds of tracks suit the mood when we wish to unwind, to smile as the sun goes down, or to help us face the day with our coffee as the city opens up under the dawn light. Within the contemporary, there are countless producers who try their hand at low frequency electronics, inspired by the tones and melodies that came before in looking to channel into the softer side of the dance, to the rooms and places where people inhabit during their quieter moments, be it with a complex and dense instrumental by their side or a simple swelling chordal line, both and indeed all lines of inquiry are covered if you wish to explore the deep depths of possibility. It's an audial presence that chimes along to our deepest thoughts, appealing not only to our disposition to exploration but to our senses, be it touch, smell or sound, a scape filled with intricateness that provides clarity in its depth and scale. Its a form of musical expressionism that comes in many flavours, flavours that appeal to the broadness that electronica can provide or tapping into the enriching rhythms that weave around the ground plain, picking themselves up and fluctuating over the mountains and the hills, a sonar of sorts that pulsates outwards from our location to highlight all that exists within these self contained universes. Some artists dedicate their careers to achieving an intense level of musical nirvana, whilst others utilise its riches for experimental forays into the unknown, but in some cases the ideas of softly undulating synths and drums have become greater and bigger than a career - it mimics life itself, a deeply personal journey through a producer's mindset of crafting sounds that comes across with adoration, passion and playfulness. The music chimes along to our heartbeat, intimately mapping out our wills and wims within its sonically fulfilling landscape, allowing us to wonder and meander as we please, whenever we wish.
Out of all the current crop of music makers who achieve this sense of subtle euphoria through touch, tone and overall world building, Yu Su has to be up there as the very finest in the game. Since moving to Vancouver 6 years ago, Su spent an significant amount of time immersing herself in the city's blossoming house scene, where all manner of gorgeous forward thinking house was winning hearts and minds the world over, with Su inspired to learn all she could about the craft and the vision behind it all. A classically trained pianist, Su balanced her formal background with learning the art behind the drums, the structures and the keys of the Vancouver sound, in order to create a blend that reflected both her new surroundings and her native China and its rich musical heritage. Thus, the sound which she conjured up is an incredible blend of softly spoken synths mixed with subtle hints to traditional Chinese music, with each release showcasing a dexterity in application and technicality that is highly infectious and deeply thought provoking. Su completely captures a sense of laid back progressions in her music, where every element found within each track sings at the tops of its lungs, placed very much for a reason within a wider picture where every corner is applied with the same brush of care and attention. Her sound ebbs and flows with a breezy excellence, a tenderness unmatched in many others discographies as we get swept along a hazy deep hued river that has all manner of objects and monuments to look at along the way. The melodies are constantly a source of wonderment, an element which Su highlights as an important aspect of her sound, and time and time again we are treated to mesmerising progressions that speak softly over a bedrock of gently rhythmic drumming patterns, crafting an audial narrative that feels complex and joyous.
We nod our heads, we see a smile form on our faces, we feel the room filling up with the glow of the morning sun, touching the walls with its orange embrace, feeling out every nook and cranny to ensure that we get the most fulfilling experience possible. Su's music remains one of great dynamism, utilising her core vision as one that can spread as far and wide as possible with an approach which sees the varying elements of the chords and drums move and groove with the times, giving her discography a distinctive feel that never fails to surprise with its inventiveness. All of her releases under the Yu Su name are worth mentioning, starting off with the long play beauty 'Little Forest' on the dual release with CS, that came out in 2017; the incredible jazz infused 'Infi Love' record, that also arrived in 2017; the mini masterpiece that is the 'Preparations For Departure' release, easily one of the finest records on the superb Arcane imprint, with the record arriving in 2018; the high octane and hypnotic 'Watermelon Woman', that arrived in 2019; and finally, the infectious and utterly compelling 'Roll With The Punches' EP, that also came out in 2019. Su also released music with Scott Gailey under the You're Me name, with their outputs so far including the excellent 'Plant Cell Division' LP from 2016, and the self titled mixtape from the same year, both of which are well worth checking out if you haven't already. In all, her discography speaks for itself, one where just a dip will have you hooked, falling in love for a sonic universe that emphasises melody and tones in order to take us deep within worlds blessed by majesty and delight. Its a journey well worth taking, if you haven't already.
And now we arrive at the subject of today's review, Su's debut LP, 'Yellow River Blue', that arrives via bié Records and Music From Memory. Inspired by her travels along the Yellow Sea Coast and the burgeoning Chinese electronic music scene, Su was inspired to expand her visions over a long play, and the results do not disappoint, as we set sail on her most ambitious sonic journey to date, with all of the cornerstones of her sound represented and amplified on this gorgeous piece of music. Fading neatly between up tempo rhythms and deep set excursions, its an accumulation of all that came before that is then channelled further through Su's unique view of music making, crafting an experience that is big on melodic exploration and textured genre defying soundscapes that leave us unbelievably satisfied at the end of it all. No one makes them quite like Su, and this album is testament to her abilities, her applications and creative expertise, and with that said, lets take a dive deep into this wondrous piece of music.....
Up first comes 'Xiu', and this one starts things off in bombastic fashion. The traditional Chinese instruments weave and cascade atop a swinging beat, with the hats and snares hitting hard within the foundation of the rhythm, as vocals swirl in and around the two elements, starting off subtle at first before taking a lead role as the track transitions into its next sequence. The spacious segment only lasts for a few moments, as the key melodic drivers come back into play with the drums working over time to get the energies working into overtime, with delightful key lines moving in and around the left and right of the pan as guitar over dubs chime in the depths. The vocals make a return to take the track into its next breathing space, providing a plateau before the cut picks up steam once again, whipping its magic all around us as we move along with all its infectious brilliance, caught up in a musical expression that is simply incredible. Su mentioned the importance of melodies in her works, and this must be one of her best efforts at that statement yet. A glorious opener. Up next comes 'Futuro', and this one takes the energies down into the murky depths. The drums are as always delicate and expertly placed, as distant sequences make their presence known through a consistent rhythmic line, and as the drums fade back into view the bass line comes into play, crafting a dub laden scene for us to revel in. Its crunchy, its sombre, its oozing with technical application, showcasing all of Su's abilities to weave a narrative that isn't as reliant on melodies to get us excited. Brilliant! Up next comes 'Touch-Me-Not', and this one opens up with the keys leading the way in every sense of the word. The pads and softly undulating arpeggio craft a rhythmic presence within the track, with the two lines reverbing constantly within a shifting landscape, as the rhythmic foundation feels as if its moving in two possible directions, with gorgeous lines moving in and around the core structure. The track continues to build and build, with the various melodic features blurring and merging with one another into a succinct yet highly individual sequence, where flurries out with the core movement crafting a compelling narrative indeed, all of which leads into the broken up nature of the track as it enters into a climax of sorts. All the layers are spun together into a fast paced chop of sorts, contracting for a moment before blossoming back into their original trajectory, feeding out into the widest areas of this vast soundscape that exists before us. Such a beauty.
Up next comes 'Gleam', and we remain in similar melodic territories for this one. The drums come back into play here, their in depth nature occupying the centre stage as the keys operate within the backdrop, crafting a compelling as hell sight for us to marvel at, with the percussive elements taking the time to weave and ebb and flow in front. The overall picture is one of soothing, calming and gently bobbing us along to its hypnotic beauty, something that comes into more focus as the drums move away for a moment to include a vocal sample that speaks softly over the top of proceedings, with additional key lines added in to really hammer home the notions of gently floating in the breeze. A stunner. Up next comes 'Melaleuca', and the fires really get going on this one. The drums are up tempo and spacious, providing all the space in the world for the arpeggio melodic line to weave its way into the structure, as the breakdown sees cosmic orientated synths glide over the tops of the cut, as the drums come back in to keep the rhythm going at full pace. The arpeggio removes itself from proceedings for now, giving space to the excellent formula of sounds to work their magic on us, with so many layers operating in order to give over as fullest an experience as possible. The transition into the second breakdown sees a new melodic line come into view, before the arpeggios make their return before flickering out of view as the drumming pattern comes back into view, with deep chiming keys moving in on the left, and before long we arrive in another high energy segment. Its fucking incredible the way in which the track moves so elegantly through the varying transitions, eager to showcase its dexterity and thoughts behind it all, with this segment feeling like a pure hands in the air moment, a triumph of a dance floor track. Su flexes all her arrangement skills on this one, and honestly any producer would be supremely proud of this cut. Absolutely amazing. 'Klein' arrives next, and this one starts off in much more subdued territories. Instruments speak to one another within a spacious and hazy environment, calling out names and places as a sweeping effect takes over to transition the track into a somewhat regular rhythm, with the aesthetics on display highly trippy and inherently engaging. The vocals call out across the membrane of the cut, with a bass line joining in for good measure as time passes by, and then we are greeted with the most heavy set drumming pattern yet. At first the composition is more absent in regards to elements, but as the bars pass by it becomes deeper and deeper, with swirling metallic effects adding complexity and density to the track, crafting the most ambitious experimental melodies that Su has ever embarked on. Its certainly a cut that hypnotises, its compelling make up one of continual teeking and flexing in relation to textures and groove, doing the most amazing job at moving our hearts and minds to new heights of understanding. 'Dusty' arrives next, and after all that percussive majesty, its time to take the vibe down into melodic laden territory. The key line that greets us is suitably Yu Su through and through, delicate in its application and wide open in terms of what might arrive next, and as the pads align themselves with the initial progression we see the move into a denser surroundings occur, as the bass element really fills the spaces between the softly spoken beats. The transitions into a less heavy mid section sees the introduction of floating keys come into view, with the intro sequence coming back in and building into a flourishing structure, one where the melodies sing to one another with grace and ease. The next few segments intertwine and latch onto one another, crafting a melodic sequence of true beauty and inventiveness, and one that won't leave our minds for a while yet. To wrap things up on this colossus of a record, we have 'Melaleuca (At Night)', that keeps the tempos going for one final foray into the universe that has been crafted before us. The drums are suitably downtempo, with the main key line hazily running itself across the tempos as a two chord line effectively spreads itself across the top line, developing into three as a main key line chimes its way into our view. The composition flows as neatly and as satisfying as all that has come before, and its a perfect send off for a record filled with originality, blends and musical excellence, and we cannot get enough of it.
Yu Su has spent time over her previous releases building up a sound that is certainly one of contemporary dance music's most consistently mesmerising, and with this LP it simply confirms that she is a producer at the top of her game. Musically its at times breathtaking, at others sombre, at others thought provoking and intelligent, but always guided by a firm hand who clearly sees how her music unravels, inter-layers and operates as one free flowing unit. The manner in which we transcend constantly throughout is testament to Su's ability to build worlds with her music, linking her background from within the Vancouver scene and her Chinese roots as a means to craft sonically gorgeous environments that never cease to amaze with their delicateness and texture. Melody remains a key element throughout, be it the tracks that showcase her talents in this department to their fullest extent or the tracks that remain somewhat empty, it all works together effortlessly as a piece of music that is both musically diverse and brilliantly conceived. Album of the year? perhaps, maybe, most definitely.
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