Review: Yu Su – Yellow River Blue

Yu Su's second album Yellow River Blue
Yellow River Blue sleeve

Western music has historically had a fraught relationship with movements that exist outside of its own milieu. Even in recent memory, with the UK music establishment championing Western tastemakers like Amazing Tapes From Africa over the originators of a certain sound or style, it’s unsurprising that listens rarely translate into bookings for artists that exist outside of Europe or the US.

In recent years there have been major moves to combat culture-vulture attitudes in western circles, with events like Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Festival lifting the lid on a sea of left field electronica from around the world.

China is one of the few remaining unknowns in this sense, perhaps owing to the ideological battles played out across western politics and media that somewhat desperately define the People’s Republic as the other, the evil empire, or the socialist threat to democracy.

Whether this is compatible with your news feed echo-chamber or not, the hard lines drawn between our cultures seem ridiculous when you consider that China accounts for a whole fourteenth of the land mass of earth and a whopping 18.4% of the world’s population.

Yu Su performing at Dekmantel Festival 2019

Enter Yu Su with her sophomore offering Yellow River Blue, dropping in physical format via Amsterdam’s Music From Memory this month. Born in Kaifeng, Eastern China, but native to Vancouver, Canada, Yu Su turned heads in 2019 with standout sets at Sugar Mountain and Dekmantel that showcased her penchant for left-field and decidedly off-kilter dance floor material.

Yu Su’s set at Sugar Mountain in the same year

Following 2018’s Preparation For Departure and 2019’s Watermelon Woman, Yellow River Blue develops Yu Su’s unique sound that takes influence from the emerging Chinese experimental electronica scene, with deep dubby explorations and twinkling ambience, spun together in inventive and original arrangements.

Inspired by and partially written during her 2019 tour of Mainland China, the release wears these influences proudly, with the record being released simultaneously on Music From Memory and Yu Su’s new bié Records imprint, a platform set up explicitly to champion left-field electronic music from China.

As with Yu Su’s previous releases, Yellow River Blue leans away from the dance floor, opting instead for an easy ambience and warm atmospherics. Opener “Xiu” might be the artist’s strongest track to date, fusing the traditional sounds of the Pipa or Chinese lute with a soft waning vocal before dropping into a driving bass and drum rhythm that lifts the piece into a hazy ecstasy.

“Futuro” and “Gleam” feel like satisfying riffs on trip-hop, with the former featuring a surprisingly weighty bass line that offers a fantastic counterpoint to the Lo Fi aesthetic espoused throughout the rest of the record.

Track “Melaleuca” from Yellow River Blue

“Meleluaca” offers the most obviously DJ-orientated offering of the album, sounding like a Dekmantel circa 2014 combination of Italo synths and jittery electronics, retaining its own identity through a thoroughly enjoyable and unpredictable arrangement.

It is testament to Yu Su’s artistic vision that such a range of influences are toyed with across this album, and in some cases tracks feel more appropriately labelled as songs given the unique, communicative quality of the instrumentation and arrangements. With the artist looking to the future with the establishment of her bié Records Imprint, 2021 could very well be Yu Su’s year, and I for one hope to be hearing much more from her soon.

Yellow River Blue is available to stream on all major platforms now.

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