Sui Zhen is the moniker of the Melbourne-based artist Becky Sui Zhen. Before Secretly Susan, Sui Zhen had released two EPs on Tokyo Labels in 2014, Female Basic and Body Reset. Secretly Susan is a watery submersion, a wading through shallow rock pools, a soaking in sea salt and foam, all in pastels. Basically, Sui Zhen manages to synthesise a sound that is the auditory equivalent of a stream and its cobalt fabric and nacreous whirls. It is, however, not any kind of stream. It is the online stream, the digital ocean, in which we all hopelessly swim, or drown. As a personification of our pixellated water-world, Sui Zhen figures Susan into existence a “vision of digital anxieties people have of the world, like a culmination of visual data and all of this stuff that exists on Instagram and Facebook.” The LP is full of surreal but soft soundscapes that will have you flung to some far off, extraterrestrial paradise.
Hangin’ On is an awesome song. It begins with this pop-inflected coo, and then bright synths (which must have been sampled from a bleating pedestrian signal on Shibuya intersection) rise and gently flap their technicolour wings. For some reason, the song evokes images of a iridescent hummingbird darting in its frenetic but calculated way. Sui Zhen is a very clever experimenter, she builds this minimal down-tempo groove by scattering wooden beats and controlled-clatter, and layers it with nectar-sweet, but never too present digital chiming. This adds an 80s electro-bossanova dimension, which is leavened by Sui Zhen’s sparse, but carefully located vocals. It all works in this disjointed and ghostly way that feels pillowy and nectarous, rather than alien.
Infinity Street is a masterful post-pop piece. Eerie reverb and obscure synths follow Susan’s walk down infinity street, a world licked by the pastel greens of nuclear fallout (at least that is what I imagine). The bent pentatonic missteps of Japanese-lounge sit comfortably in stripped down samba soundscapes. Sui Zhen’s voice carefully slides in the gaps and lilts in its minimal yet powerful way, “It’s killing me”. The following song, Safari, is wide and yawning. Long-stretched synths are danced upon by distorted whistles and bleeps as she her layered voice huffs and puffs and whispers. It honestly feels like the type of song that would be performed at a martian funeral. I can see balloon-headed ghosts hovering above their space-rock tombstones.
The final track, Alter-ego, has this dark mystique. It starts with the star-light glitter of an off-centre guitar melody. Susan’s FX-disfigured voice proclaims, “I felt the sand, I heard the sea.” Sui Zhen croons like a lost siren as echoing samples of bird-song quaver in the background. Susan (Sui Zhen’s constructed persona for this project) gradually dissipates, her voice inaudible and muted amongst the rising diegesis. The ending song is the quietus, the coup de grace, of an incredibly conceptual and genre-bending sonic-tableau of pop and Susan. SO do yourself a favour, and give this LP a serious and careful listen. It will have you dreaming.