Last month I was record shopping in Los Angeles and found, in the midst of a highly under-curated electro section, a mysterious record, shrouded only in a monolithic green, the writing on the back all Japanese. Its hue appealed to me, so I paid the meager price for it and took it home for a listen. I was stunned by the miracle I encountered: the perfect song. Well, maybe not objectively, but the perfect song for me—a relaxed house groove, bossa nova plucking on a guitar, and a delightful melody sung in a clear and pure woman’s falsetto. Of course all these individual parts spoke to my tastes, but what really brought its stunning quality home was how they all came together organically to make something so unique, yet so good, so obviously good, obvious in a way that makes you shout in your head “Yes! Like this! This is what I’ve wanted all along! All music like this, from now on, please!” But at the same time you know it can’t work like that. It is this music’s singularity that makes it so miraculous in the first place.
It is this same sublime push-and-pull between the singular and the familiar that I experience when I listen to “Dear Teri,” off of Sui Zhen’s new LP Secretly Susan. Coincidentally, the light, skipping melody resembles the one on that song I encountered in L.A., and the sparse bass line is also reminiscent. Another coincidence: this song features a female singer addressing another woman in a manner that ambiguously straddles the line between platonic and Sapphic, just like Sade’s “Maureen,” another track that gives me—what should I call it?—that Eureka feeling. I call these coincidences, because although it is true that these three songs share elements that pique my appetite, there is something else there, some ineffable quality that really places these songs in the same category within my psyche, yet keeps them all separate from each other. It is not that they are all the same, it is that they express their individuality in a similar way.
Perhaps this is what is meant by eclecticism. I have, for better or for worse, always listened to music in an eclectic, sweeping, generalist manner, devoting myself fervently to individual songs plucked from records rather than the full records themselves. And when listening to Sui Zhen’s work, I have a feeling we share this tendency. In fact, part of me knows this to be true, from witnessing her output as a DJ. In fact, another Eureka song for me can be found on her Headphone Highlights show from Red Bull Music Academy Radio, a delightfully weird Japanese disco track from The Sadistics called “Tokyo Taste.” It is a wonderful feeling when, listening to someone else’s mix, you can hear the same Eureka that the selector heard in the first place.
And that is the really wonderful thing about Secretly Susan—it sounds like a whole album influenced by little Eurekas. It is not just “Dear Teri” that grabs me, but every song before and after, because when I hear them, I can understand what it is that makes them exciting, not only to me as the listener, but to the creator as well. I might be making an egregious extrapolation here, this chain of psychic connection between musician and audience, but the true joy in music comes from such leaps and potential illusions—that is, when the listening experience shifts from a pleasant hobby to something more mystical, ritualistic. Yes, I may usually prefer my little singular shrines to full records, but when an entire album is composed for the eclectic heart, as Sui Zhen’s album is here, I can make an exception.
Secretly Susan is out now via Zhen’s Bandcamp page.