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Yu Su’s ‘Yellow River Blue’ is a dynamic chronicle of movement through space and genre

Yu Su Yellow River Blue
Yu Su – Yellow River Blue

The Yellow River is the second-longest river in China. Starting at the Bayan Har Mountains in the Qinghai province, it flows east through nine provinces and empties into the Bohai Sea. Huang He, as it’s also known, is the world’s most silted river, estimated to have flooded over 1,500 times since the 2nd century BCE

Like the expansive body of water that gives Yellow River Blue its name, Yu Su’s life has found her moving through many regions. Born in Kaifeng, which just lies south of the Yellow River, she moved to Canada and started her music career in 2014. Naturally as a musician, she has had her fair share of traveling (i.e. touring). During a tour spanning mainland China, she discovered a sprawling electronica scene there in addition to more well-known hubs like Berlin and New York. Inspired by her birthplace, her travels, and a newfound community of creators, Yellow River Blue is partly an homage to her roots and culture but also a dynamic chronicle of movement through space, time, and genre.

Opening track “Xiu” and “Melaleuca” are shining examples of Yu Su utilizing her skill in melding genres and applying it to bridge Eastern and Western musical influences. Vibrant pipa tones along with gentle drum machines are brought to the forefront in lead single “Xiu,” followed by a driving bassline which energizes the second part of the track. Twinkling synth leads complement sounds of the pipa on the song, all without overpowering that of the lute instrument. Complex arrangements like these showcase Yu Su’s highly tuned ear for sonic arrangements.

Yu Su Yellow River Blue
Yu Su. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Tracks like “Futuro”, “Gleam”, and “Klein” find Yu Su in darker club settings, bringing dissonant and more intense moments to the album. “Gleam” could easily be found opening a late night underground set mix. The commanding bass in “Futuro” drives dusky beats, making it a prime selection for peak time at techno parties. Mysterious drones in “Klein” could easily be placed at the closing portion of a set’s repertoire. It’s a song that stands out from the other two as it has ambient drone/shoegaze elements, bearing some sonic resemblance to the Bowery Electric’s 1996 classic album Beat.

Some of the strongest moments of Yellow River Blue ironically come from the softer ambient tracks. “Touch-Me-Not” resembles the river’s silted waters, with its bubbling synths submerging listeners in murky waters and sporadic cuts trudging through the sludgy silt. “Dusty” feels like staring up at the stars and contemplating on the vastness of space above. Then closer “Melaleuca – at night” is a soft send off, releasing the complexities and multitudes this album contains into a sonic basin. 

The track order in Yellow River Blue can feel a bit disjointed–from vibrant electronica to darker techno, then switching to airy ambient transitions and mysterious drones before closing out with lighter ambient sounds. But this arrangement keeps you on your toes, keenly guessing what will come next.

Yellow River Blue is no doubt a strong debut for Yu Su, one that prominently showcases the culmination of her life experiences and musical endeavors up to this point. With this being the first release on the newly founded bié Records, it sets an ample stage for China’s experimental artists to share their work and put the country on the map in the electronic scene.

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