In an era of 15-second sound bites and viral TikTok songs, Sarah Su speaks on the “exercise of determination” required for their full-length debut album the soil in which my roots now grow.
Much has been written about the increasing TikTok-ification of music. The shortening of our collective attention spans has given rise to formulaic methods of hit-making, which is why — with its leisurely runtime and unique attention to detail — Sarah Su’s debut album the soil in which my roots now grow stands as a refreshing antidote to the boom of trending soundbites.
Fresh off the release of roots, Su stopped by Happy Mag for a chat about why they opted for a longer-form album, and how expanding the tracklist was “a real exercise of determination.” Below, Su offers their defence of the full-length album, shares insights into the project’s creation, and lists their five favourite full-length albums released in the past three years.
Scroll down for the full manifesto by Sarah Su, and head here to listen to their debut album the soil in which my roots now grow.
In Defence of the Full-Length Album:
In an era of the music industry dominated by easily marketable singles and 15-second hooks, it was a real exercise of determination to follow through with a long form release. ‘the soil in which my roots now grow’ has taken three years to release from when its earliest track was written (it was ‘skin’) and over that time, there was a lot of advice to release the tracks as singles instead of the full project.
Being able to write the album while considering the relationships between the tracks, allowed me the creativity to allocate the different songs like scenes; the nostalgic scene setters, ‘how to forget’ and ‘golden hour’ preparing us for a three-track-sequence (‘skin’ > ‘rips’ > ‘overflow’) which detail a narrative fall, struggle, and acceptance respectively.
It gave me the freedom to approach the same subject through the lenses of different genres and conventions – musical languages that carry expectations and history. I definitely don’t have the background or expertise in hip hop to release a rap track on its own, but in the context of my album, I was able to learn and draw from the historical political commentary embedded in the culture of hip hop as I wrote ‘earl grey’.
Maintaining ‘the soil in which my roots now grow’ as a single work gave me the room to explore the many facets of my own identity as a 3rd-gen Hong-Kong, queer young person living on stolen land. The album is a literal record of my journey to understanding how my past is growing me into the person I’m becoming, a journey that certainly wouldn’t fit in three minutes.
Don’t get me wrong- hours of music I love have been delivered and released as singles, and it’s definitely true that not every song has to exist in a larger project. But I think it’s important to maintain space for full-length albums and long form content in general to be seen as worth working on and celebrating too.
So in celebration of the long form, here are five full-length albums released in the past three years, that shaped the soil in which my roots now grow.
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, 2021 — Little Simz
Little Simz is one of my favourite artists right now – she’s a powerful Nigerian woman redefining rap in the UK with a captivating conversational energy as a storyteller. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert tracks her journey as she interrogates and questions her identity in the context of the politicised social environments in which she exists.
It features scripted spoken conversations, interludes, and instrumentals – all adding to the fullness of the album as we follow her from questions and doubt to confidence and acceptance.
Home ≠ Location, 2022 — Elle Shimada
Elle Shimada’s Home ≠ Location gave me the courage to release an indie record in the Naarm/Melbourne scene – one that addresses and embraces the tensions between East Asian immigrant culture (especially in Australia), queerness, and the impact on our collective search for home.
It’s the first record I’d come across that included an Acknowledgement of Country, and helped me to see that my music was capable of holding my questions and my philosophy – and that there was space in the industry for that kind of work.
five seconds flat, 2022 — Lizzy McAlpine
To be honest, I listened to five seconds flat non-stop for the larger part of 2022 – each track flows from one to another and the closer leads into the opener in a way that makes it so easy to have it on repeat for hours. Each track performs a function not only narratively in the project’s wider story, but also musically as its energy ebbs and flows.
(Also, the resurgence in marketing of ceilings now basically a year after it was released is giving me real hope that projects can last for longer than five minutes in the landscape of trends and influencers, and it’s worth continuing to promote work that’s good, beyond a three week campaign.)
a liquid breakfast, 2021 — AUDREY NUNA
Similarly to Home ≠ Location, a liquid breakfast was an example to me of an artist really boldly defying expectations of genre. AUDREY NUNA is a Korean-American rapper, she’s known as a pioneer in the AAPI hip-hop space, but her album unapologetically places high energy bars alongside ethereal vocal arrangements and sultry production.
a liquid breakfast is a project that places genre and consistency second, and holds integrity to self expression at number one.
love is not dying, 2020 – Jeremy Zucker
As a songwriting-forward artist, love is not dying was the album that made me want to become a better producer. The intricacy and complexity and generosity in detail that Jeremy Zucker brought to this album made me excited about developing my own aesthetic and DNA that I could explore through the production of my album.
It’s a record that doesn’t shy away from referencing itself in an exploratory way, and it feels like a crafted full-length project that doesn’t hold the same impact when listened on shuffle.
If you’re interested in hearing more of the music that shaped my album, I’ve curated four different playlists featuring tracks released both as part of full-length projects and as singles, which you can find on my Spotify profile here.