Winning on Her Own Battlefield

By Simone Solondz / November / December 2005
April 26th, 2007

Susie Suh by Susie Suh '02 (Epic/Sony).

From the first moody strains of Susie Suh's opening track, "Won't You Come Again," it's clear that hers is a voice to be reckoned with. This debut CD is a serious and emotional collection of songs that take on the existential confusion and ultimate self-discovery that twentysomethings must negotiate. In "Seasons Change," for example, Suh comes to terms with aging and mortality, lamenting the inexorable passage of time but still ending on a hopeful note.

Her sandy alto vocals are supported on the disc by fingerpicked guitar, subtle strings, piano, and quiet percussion. The producer, Glen Ballard (who has also produced records for Alanis Morissette), allows every raw emotion to shine through. Heavy grooves and quiet love songs are broken up by some nice poppy hooks (in "Shell," "Recognition," and the mesmerizing "Light on My Shoulder") and by a sultry shuffle ("Lucille," cowritten by Ballard).

The deeply felt "Your Battlefield" explores a theme that's new to American popular music: the family pressures that the singer-songwriter has faced as a first-generation Asian American. Suh started college at New York University, but her Korean-born parents, fearing that the city's music scene was distracting her from her studies, persuaded her to transfer to Brown. Like many Asian American immigrants eager for their children to live out the American dream, they wanted her to become a doctor or a lawyer.

Although Suh concentrated in English at Brown, she continued to write music and she has now signed a major-label deal with Epic Records. "You say that life is a battlefield and you have given me the arms," she sings, addressing her parents. "You say I have to fight, but this is your battlefield." As the song climaxes, Suh passionately proclaims, "I can't fight your war."

Suh wrote these songs over the course of nearly ten years, and it's remarkable how astute her observations and ruminations were at the tender age of sixteen. Now twenty-five, she has produced a debut collection that explores distinctive emotional ground - the quest for ethnic identity - while demonstrating the universality of that struggle. The themes of this record are ones any young listener can relate to - and ones older listeners can vividly recall.

We can all take heart that Suh skipped medical school. From start to finish, Susie Suh is a smart and sexy spin, and proof positive that she made the right career choice.

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November / December 2005