Album Reviews

Bolis Pupul – Letter To Yu

(Deewee) UK release date: 8 March 2024

A rich, multi-layered work that serves as a compelling journey of grief, loss and the effects of ancestry

Bolis Pupul - Letter To Yu In 2022, Belgian musician Bolis Pupul released one of the best albums of the year with Charlotte AdigéryTopical Dancer was full of infectious dancefloor anthems about racism, sexual agency and identity.

Pupul’s solo debut, Letter To Yu is a far more personal affair. It’s an album inspired by the story of his mother, who was born in Hong Kong and died in a car accident in 2008. Ten years after her death, Pupul travelled to Hong Kong to visit her birthplace and wrote her a letter. That became the framework for Letter To Yu.

From the cover art of Pupul sat on Hong Kong’s Star Ferry to the field recordings recorded on the subway, Letter To Yu is a very immersive record. If you close your eyes, you’d swear you were walking round the jade markets and temples of Hong Kong.

Co-produced, like Topical Dancer, with Belgian electronic music behemoths Soulwax, Pupul skilfully mixes East Asian influences with more Western inspired dancefloor beats. Sometimes, it feels sad and reflective, as on Ma Tau Wai Road, which was named after the road that Pupul’s mother was born on, and features vocals from his sister Salah. At other times, it’s full-on, bass-heavy dance, as tracks like Doctor Says and Kowloon demonstrate. The fact that both sides of this record hold together so well is indicative of Pupul’s talent.

The field recordings that Pupul undertook in Hong Kong give the record its soul. You can hear the buzz of the city in the background of Completely Half, a Kraftwerk-esque track about racial identity that beautifully rises and swells. The lyrics talk of uneasiness in his surroundings (“I wish I spoke what they speak, so I could blend in easily”) and seeing his mother in every passing face (“wait, who do I see, is that you? Or someone who looks a lot like you?”). It’s a touching portrait of someone trying to find their roots.

Doctor Says sits in the middle of the album and is a big, hypnotic synth anthem, featuring samples of an actual Hong Kong doctor, which leads into the excellently titled Spicy Crab which is an urgent, momentum-building instrumental. Kowloon is probably the track which most Soulwax devotees will fall hardest for, an invigorating floor-filler which doesn’t stop for a pause throughout its five and a half minutes.

The more reflective moments are where Letter To Yu’s emotional heart beats though. Ma Tau Wai Road’s lyrics are a direct address to Pupul’s mother, and Salah Pupul sings of the disorientating effect of wandering round a city that feels like home, but isn’t quite so – “don’t know what I’m after, I’m lost in tears, the temple round the corner, wrapped in haze”. Like the closing, piano-led Cosmic Rendez-Vous, it’s a touching study of legacy and rootlessness, that’s all the more effective for sitting between the more hedonistic sounding bangers.

While it doesn’t quite have the instantly addictive quality that Pupul’s work with Charlotte Adigéry does, this is still a rich, multi-layered work that serves as both a fine tribute to Pupul’s mother and a compelling journey of grief, loss and the effects of ancestry.

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More on Bolis Pupul
Bolis Pupul – Letter To Yu
Charlotte Adigéry and Bolis Pupul – Topical Dancer