In Losing, Linda, Sui Zhen probes animism in the immaterial world. 'Linda' is the subject of the album's cover, a grotesque and rubberised approximation of Zhen. She impresses a dark, half-formed online identity — the ghost that we, the living, assemble to leave here. This is something marketers tellingly call a 'presence'.
Behind the mask is choreographer Megan Payne, in a further explosion of identity. Identity crises are no new ground in music, but Zhen explores them with refreshing contemporaneity. If Death Grips were the first post-internet band, propelled upwards by memes and ARGs, Zhen goes a step further. She is among the first to so fully discuss the internet’s Derridean spectrality, its power to fragment the individual.
Opener 'Another Life' gets the most often-discussed existential terror of the internet out of the way. It's a slow, ethereal, exploration of the innate FOMO of the online experience. Its chorus hook, 'all I see are things that I could be missing / all I know are things from another life', ought to hit home for any one of facebook's 2.41 billion monthly active users.
The effects of this phenomenon extend into the real world, too. Gig attendees will be familiar with the obsessive documentation of the 21st century. They've either craned their neck around a hovering device, its bright screen a smear of the world, or filmed a performance on one. Whatever one's perspective on this practice, it has inarguably altered our relationship with the present. This is epitomised in the sinister online aphorism 'pics or it didn't happen'.
And throughout Losing, Linda, Sui Zhen emphasises this incorporeal floatiness that physical reality has caught. 'Different Places' is a wistful, dub-inflected piece that feels adrift in the air. It lives in and explores distances between people, with koan-like lyrics that reveal as much as they mystify. 'I Could Be There' is a ballad with one foot in the past; like a strange, sorrowful piece of city pop remixed by Clams Casino. It feels like something that would stalk the quiet halls of youtube, awaiting the day it’s recommended to millions, heaved back from the forgotten past into new life.
Anti-natalism and biodegradable coffins betray a modern desire to leave no physical trace. Yet we are increasingly commemorated by our online presences, doppelgängers which will breathe as long as the servers do. Losing, Linda is, then, a ghost story for 2019; the story of our collective self-haunting. It's a generous work which deepens in meaning and grows in beauty with every listen.
Pre-order and stream tracks from Losing, Linda here. Album due September 27th.
Words by Andrew O’Keefe