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Sui Zhen - Losing, Linda Music Album Reviews

On her alluring and unnerving new album, the Melbourne singer-songwriter adopts a digital alter-ego to explore real-life human strife.

The idea of human consciousness existing outside the body has been the focus of dystopian sci-fi from Blade Runner to Westworld, and it’s embedded in the new album from Melbourne art-pop auteur Becky Freeman—a.k.a. Sui Zhen. But unlike those works, Losing, Linda isn’t consumed by apocalyptic visions of robots taking over. Rather, the record suggests there’s something inherently flawed about attempting to live in a perfect world, and that there are certain problems for which there is no app.


Freeman's sublime sophomore effort, 2015’s Secretly Susan, explored a life lived through avatars. On Losing, Linda, Freeman sings from the perspective of the titular AI Linda. The lyrics examine the possibility of artificially reconstructing a human life through the digital detritus we leave behind on social media—an idea that became all-consuming when Freeman’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just as recording commenced. And like the latex-mask replica of her face that she wears on the cover, the results are equally alluring and unnerving—this is a record where pristine facades can never conceal the distressed soul underneath.

Losing, Linda hits the same big pleasure points as Secretly Susan—neon-hued ’80s pop, DIY digital dub, bossa-nova balladry—but the mood hovers between ecstasy and unease. Freeman’s voice loses the post-Grimes avant-R&B smear of Secretly Susan, adopting an eerily calm and crystal-clear diction that sounds very much like an AI learning to convincingly imitate us. The drum-machine stutters of “Natural Progression” suggest a robot coming to life and getting used to its mechanical limbs, before asking itself questions like: “I’m growing hair/Do I need it anymore?”

On the centerpiece “Being a Woman,” Freeman’s concerns move beyond physical characteristics to the gender expectations accompanying them. The song is both celebratory and cautionary, a proud declaration of womanhood on one’s own terms (“Redefine sexuality, that’s how I’ll find my way!”) whose chorus (“Being a woman/You have to hold yourself ... before you hold someone else”) suggests self-determination is much easier wished for than achieved. Freeman recently admitted that she was only able to be open about her sexuality after her mother passed, so when she sings “When I grew up, I thought I had to be/Somebody’s mother, or somebody’s daughter,” she hints at the unshakable familial forces that can constrain even the most empowered, free-thinking souls.

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On Losing, Linda, her mother's loss isn’t so much addressed as felt. You can hear it in the ghostly chorus to the space-age bachelor-pad sway of “I Could Be There,” in the eerie Dark Side of the Moon Safari atmosphere of “Another Life,” or in the equally desolate and divine dream-pop of “Mountain Song.” The latter track was inspired a treacherous hike that left Freeman stranded for a night atop a Japanese mountain, though with lines like “Can you let go and just be comfortable with the fear you have for the unknown/What could be out there that’s scarier than your own mind,” she seems to be preparing herself for the even greater challenge that awaits her once she returns to her mother’s bedside. But on “Different Places,” she seems to make peace with the fact that her life will henceforth be haunted by absence: “We’re just in different places,” she sings, before adding, “but I’m with you.”

As Losing, Linda reminds us, the cruel irony about technology is that we crave its synthetic pleasures in those moments when life gets too real. But with the immaculate “Perfect Place”—a sensuous swirl of Neal Tennant sing-speak, Kraftwerk keyboards, and rubbery funk bass—Freeman suggests that utopia can be ours not with the push of a button, but with a boost in motivation and change of scene. “Now look toward the river/A new point of view/Past the industry/A little further still/ And it’s the perfect place—get to know it,” she sings, like an enlightened Waze app. ”Things you can’t put off, do it now, do it now.” By adopting a robotic persona to examine real-life strife, she reinforces the notion that a life is more than just an accumulation of data.


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