This, the fifth solo venture from Matthews, finds the artist ably exploring the darker corners of human experience. The CD carries the stark, black and white image of a child, seemingly the host of a wound or expulsion of disease. Such a two-tone organic image of flawed perfection merely hints at the sounds therein. Almost organic-noise in essence the soundscapes are opened with ‘Splinter’, a track that slowly gathers layers of discordant instrumentation through which Matthews distinctive tones float, Sybil-like as electronic beats begin to ricochet before the whole track merges into some great satanic procession. What is evident throughout is Matthew’s manipulation of noise as abrasive textures are punctuated with stuttered formulas and organic-noise floors that stretch and contort. The album as a whole is very constructed and no track feels intrusive or out of continuity. From the deconstruct red frequencies of ‘Moon Tremors’ to the haunting, respiratory pulse of (moon bound) the path is laid for the final tracks that shimmer with high frequency disturbances, lo-fi rumbles and rains of abrasive electronics, inverted sounds and loops. The axis about which Matthew’s compositions spiral and rail seems to inherit an image which is secondary to the music, the music itself defining the landscape and character in greater clarity. This is one of Matthew’s strengths and why her works are considered pieces rather than mere assemblages of sporadic noise pieces. ‘Axis Vein’ succeeds because it has the power to interact with its audience and as such reward, it represents a marvelous and vibrant talent within the genre.
Michael Cunningham, Judas Kiss Magazine, October 2009
Axis Vein (SIREN WIRE RECORDINGS SW81) is a collection of bleak songs and tunes all rendered in a variety of inventive, stark and minimalist ways, which dwell in areas of mysterious pain and fear perhaps as a method of exorcising some very personal demons. Her breathy vocalising is infinitely preferable to the awful Sinead O’Connor. Some are bordering on being musical atmospheres than actual songs, but everything contributes to the sense of personal suffering or injury as evinced by the cover pictures, depicting a head with fake injuries and blood in shadowy b/w photos.
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, November 2008
Susan Matthews is a left-of-field, UK based composer you might not yet have heard of but her ceaseless output, which include numerous EP’s, collaborations and a forthcoming film soundtrack, have made ripples in the underground scene. Specialising in the otherworldly realms of the avant-garde, Matthews’ makes a brand of sound that pits the fragile beauty of the female voice against the dark and oppressive tones of industrial noise and dark ambience. The 10 track ‘Axis Vein’ release is Matthews’ 5th solo album and comes courtesy of her own ‘Siren Wire’ label.
Composed and performed by Matthews and Mark Ingram, opener ‘Splinters’ delights with its eerie bounce and otherworldly tones. Like This Heat meets John Cooper Clark’s ‘Evidently Chickentown’, stark and clanging percussives underpin an ever-increasing layer of waltzing horns and manipulated clicks’n’cuts which rapidly dance around each-other to the point of frenzy whilst Matthews’ somber vocals wring out with childlike innocence. Hovering between angelic dirge and the mutterings of the insane, Matthews’ ghostly tones are Christina Carter-esque in stature and litter the toxic, industrial soundscapes which whirr, bleat and hum beneath. From the subtle yet distressing squeals on ‘The Empty Auditorium’ to the atonal whispers on ‘Bound’, Matthews voice is in fine fettle, tuned in as another instrument in the swirling soundscape of industrial-psyche that wreaks emotional havoc. This emotional havoc is especially manifest in ‘Flex’ which sees Matthews’ haunting and fragile voice weave intrinsically into an atmospheric, folk-noise tapestry that is deep-rooted in the realms of darkness.
‘Axis Vein’ comes across as an extremely consistent long player that never deviates from its original soundsphere yet somehow manages to welcome in a host of motifs across a wide range of musical-styles. From the isolationist and distressing dark-ambience of ‘The Blood Harvest’ with its heavyset bass-pounds, to the warm Eno-esque organ-scape of ‘The Empty Auditorium’, ’Axis Vein’ plays out like a piece of audio-theatre. Cinemascope sound-effects, swathes of industrial noise and ominous electronic tones make skeletal soundscapes that progressively intensify as layer on layer of skree piles on-top- the end result being a set of songs that play out like a requiem to lost dreams. ‘Axis Vein’ is interspersed by poignant and introspective segments of melancholic keys which are combined with electronic crackle and fuzz to create a dark and atmospheric soundscape reminiscent of those found scattered on Aphex Twin’s ‘Drukqs’. These pieces, namely ‘Moon Tremors’ and ‘(Moon Bound)’ serve to accentuate the relative harshness and jarring industrialism of the pieces around it.
So appeasing to fans of the angelic dark, Matthews’ use and combination of subtle textures and pronounced dynamics makes you drift into a warm and inviting abyss from which you don’t want to leave. It is one of those releases that grows and grows on the listener with each listen and most definitely grabs the attention if listened to in a captive environment. So dim the lights, shut the curtains and lock into ‘Axis Vein’, you will not be disappointed.
KS, Experimusic.com, Oct 2008
Siren Wire Recordings
I just heard a promo of Susan Matthews’ new CD – AXIS VEIN – and its so good I need to break radio silence to post a review.
Susan’s soundscapes touch on something close to a common nightmare. They begin beneath the surface of domestic ordinariness and descend into sorrow, distrust, madness, and abstraction. It’s at the bottom of this pit, where she scrapes her fingertips seductively against the edges of the unknown, that her style becomes stunningly unique.
Susan’s work always takes you a step beyond what you’re expecting or what you can imagine. She lifts the rock to show you the worms, and then she shows you what’s under the worms. The first track on AXIS VEIN is called “Splinters”, a rhythmic, playful, foot-tapping ditty. But this is merely a cunningly dressed-up doorway to entice you inside and blind you to what’s coming next. “Splinters” eventually breaks up, disintegrating into “Beech Wretch”, and by now you know that she’s closed the door firmly behind you. You’re given a brief moment of quiet melancholic reflection with track three, “Moon Tremors”, before the distant, clunking train wheels of “The Blood Harvest” signal the arrival of some kind of horrible insanity. And then you’re suddenly on board this thing, skimming straight past the expected domestic nightmares and on your way to somewhere much more frightening.
“The Empty Auditorium”, “Flex” and “(moon bound)” carry us through various stages of terrifying emotional vivisection and inquietude until you’re confronted by the two final tracks – “The Cartography of Fear” and “The Architect’s Demise” – like a wall of grinding noise at the end of the line, and the only way out is through the middle of them.
Since her early work, Susan has been poking nerve endings with poetic laments, ghost voices, and industrial noise. She’s successfully combined fragmented conversations with broken music, and desolate pianos with quietly ominous electronic tones to create soundscapes with astonishing emotional complexities. Her uniquely personal sound falls somewhere between symphony and white noise, her voice hovers between angelic dirge and the mutterings of the insane. She’s been intense, sincere, and playful. But, this time, I think she’s genuinely trying to scare the crap out of us.
She’s chucked you down the rabbit hole before, now she’s telling you that she’s dropped something horrible down there with you, and although she might sing you a quiet melody to calm your nerves, she’s not going to lift a finger to help you out.
Susan Matthews is a dangerous woman. Her hypnotic melodies will pull you onto the rocks, but there is nothing you can do to resist them. She is a genuine modern day Siren.
Dan Schaffer, LiveJournal, April 2008