3 song ep inspired by traveling around the Veliko Tarnovo region of Bulgaria.
Welcome return to these pages of Susan Matthews, the fey musician from South Wales from whom we haven’t heard since A Kiss For The Umbrella Man, her highly personal take on the music of Erik Satie, noted in 2012. Her record From Veliko (SIREN WIRE RECORDINGS SW108) is a shortish work, just three tracks in 14 minutes, but it’s a very heartfelt statement. Piano, keyboards, voice and field recordings are used to create a spell-binding mix of songs, tunes, mood pieces, and poetic observations, and the theme is highly emotionally charged. Part of it is derived from an actual trip to Veliko Tarnovo, and the artist’s take on wandering around this beautiful medieval city. She was particularly struck by the hanging houses, which are poised on the edge of a gorge above the Yantra river and in imminent danger of falling into the water, if they haven’t already done so. Crumbling foundations, ancient buildings, clinging onto a precipice – it doesn’t require much imagination to apply these elements to the human condition, and realise how close we all are to tipping over into melancholy, despair, or even madness. Matthews also alludes to “a metaphor for a psychological journey from the darkness of depression back towards the light”, a highly personal revelation, and one which takes some fortitude to admit to and deal with. If Susan Matthews is working out her personal problems through music, she has succeeded admirably with this understated yet highly cathartic music; I defy anyone to hear her fragile voicings and subdued but intense piano work on this record without being deeply moved.
Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, 20th May, 2017
Welsh musician Susan Matthews has been recording and releasing essential and experimental works of wonder and dark beauty for over a decade now. Deeply atmospheric and evocative mood pieces, Matthews’ work is almost unclassifiable and often otherworldly yet equally seems to hinge on and tap into something deeply human, something familiar and recognisable. ‘Before I Was Invisible’, her recent collaboration with Rainier Lericolais on the Wild Silence label was a quiet gemstone of an album. ‘From Veliko’ is a similar subdued but powerful treasure, inspired by recent visit to Veliko Tarnovo (the medieval capital of Bulgaria); Matthews recounts “most days I wandered to The Monument Of The Assens. I sat and contemplated the old town across the Yantra river, where the ‘hanging houses’ cling precariously to the steep hillside, some are literally crumbling and sliding towards the river below. This seeming fragility is reflected in both the music & lyrics I composed for this project ‘The Road From Veliko’ is also a metaphor for a psychological journey – from the darkness of depression back towards the light.”
Beginning with the piano hymnal of ‘The Road from Veliko (Part One)’, we are immediately drawn into a world of shadows, of reverberated, descending notes and backwards voices and tapes. Both paradoxically calming and unsettling, the sheer impact of the piece is evidenced by the hold it has on the listener; the outside world ceases and the music becomes all there is. This is no ambient, background work; these tracks are entirely immersive and demand your full attention and involvement. Matthews’ fragile voice recounts ‘these things they are inside me, inside my dreams and in my mind…’ as the piano gradually stops, leaving her alone observing ‘the darkness descends…descends’. It is a heart stopping moment. ‘A Room Of Lights’ follows, a processional organ piece framing Matthews’ text as she recounts her travels and the transformational effects that they have upon her. There is almost something sacred about this work, it feels like a surrender to something bigger, some supernatural experience that can only be conjured in hushed, solemn terms. The piece is also a work of great beauty and stillness, one can easily imagine that those who love the music of such contemporaries as Richard Skelton, Michael Begg and James Leyland Kirby will find much to admire here. The EP/mini album finishes with the vast, cavernous dronescape of ‘St Paul In The Yantra’, an echoing chamber piece of spoken word vocals and wintry waves of strings, combining to hugely evocative and moving effect.
You almost have to draw breath after the album finished, this listener suddenly realised that he had been holding his, hanging on every note. There is genuine power held in these songs, quiet and drifting as they are; they have an intensity that is bewitching and all encompassing. This is music for the liminal hours, for dawn or dusk, for candlelight. Highly recommended, this album deserves your close attention
Grey Malkin, Tha Active Listener, 5th October 2016
Veliko Tarnovo, to be precise, is a city in Bulgaria that once stood as its capital — way back in the days of the Second Bulgarian Empire. Like many sound artists, Susan Matthews’ visit procured an audio postcard, now a CD, mostly of impressions upon viewing the city’s intersection of nature and infrastructure. See that front cover? Those “hanging houses”, as they’re termed, might serve as a fitting metaphor for Matthews’ music, which is balladic but also tenuous, offering a creaking fragility amongst its slight textures.
While it starts on the sort of crumbling piano composition Grouper might have made circa ‘Ruins’, these three tracks all feel distinct, with “A Room of Lights” offering a downbeat song in the vein of Mount Eerie — a cracked and desperate vocal atop a dinky keyboard preset that feels both homely and homesick. “St Paul In The Yantra” is a foggier, more traditional drone piece, covering over the city it’s tributing with a thick layer of cloud. Think Siavash Amini on this tune: a slow-moving but deeply affectionate sound. A good set.
Robin, Norman Records, August 2016
Depuis SirenWire69 l’an passé, continuation directe du fantasmagorique Tales From The Forbidden Garden de 2012 avec ses comptines hantées sur fond d’atmosphères oppressantes aux confins de l’ambient industrielle et d’un modern classical malmené, Susan Matthews a mis la pédale douce sur les triturations analogiques, privilégiant format court et piano pour un résultat non moins fantomatique.
Il y avait donc eu le beau Tidal Limbs en décembre dernier, entre discrets élans de romantisme tourmenté et tendance persistante à la neurasthénie plombée, puis en janvier ce Lost Sorrows, fidèle au goût assumé de la Galloise pour une lo-fi résolument fruste, saturations d’enregistreurs antédiluviens (Blistered Sunlight et son evil twin noisy Blistered Moonlight), boucle d’harmonies lancinantes (On A Theme Of Falling) et autres distos crépitantes de purgatoire dark ambient (A Passionate Hush) venant parasiter les pianotages mélancoliques de ces compositions ultra-minimalistes et suant le mal-être, lynchiennes jusque dans leurs passages les plus clairs et abstraits (le linceul d’orgue diaphane de My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth)
Quant au petit dernier From Veliko, sorti cet été à l’occasion du “Netlabel Day” sur la micro-structure anglaise Pilot Eleven, il s’inspire d’une visite de la capitale médiévale bulgare Veliko Tarnovo et en particulier de la vue d’une vieille ville désormais précaire depuis le monument aux Assens, dédié aux rois des heures de gloire du XIIIe siècle. Une allégorie de la déliquescence qui se fait également métaphore d’une quête de stabilité psychologique, les lugubres accords majeurs nappés d’oscillations désincarnées de The Road For Veliko et son mantra funèbre (“It’s so quiet here I think I’m dying, it’s so quiet here it feels like death…” etc) laissant place sur le superbe A Room Of Lights au même genre d’orgue austère et entêtant que sur My Name Is Safe In Your Mouth tandis que la voix brisée de Susan Matthews exorcise tant bien que mal ses craintes et ses regrets dans l’espoir d’un retour de la lumière. Finalement, la Britannique osera de nouveau tourner son visage vers l’éther et l’astre du jour (“There must be magic”) sur un Paul In The Yantra – d’après l’église sur la rivière traversant la cité – dont les fragiles arpèges disséminés s’effacent bientôt devant la majesté des chœurs de cathédrale, final mystique aux allures d’ode à la foi retrouvée
Indie Rock Mag, August 2016
From Susan Matthews I reviewed a solo CDR all the way back in Vital Weekly 810. Back then she played pieces by Erik Satie. Later on I heard her as part of Dead Mauriacs. She has lots more releases out but they don’t always reach me. Her new release was created for Net Label Day and released by Pilot Eleven, it says on the website, even when the cover of this CDR says Sirenwire, but maybe that is for the distribution on CDR. The music is inspired by her recent trip to Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria and has three pieces, which sadly only lasts fourteen minutes. The first piece is dominated by piano and some highly obscured drone sound, and towards the end some voice; this is quite moody and it sounds great. ‘A Room Of Lights’ starts with an organ and the same voice, pushed a bit to the background, telling a story, reciting a poem, or something similar, and has a likewise moody character, but is a bit simpler in approach. In ‘St Paul In The Yantra’ the mood continues and as far as we know lifted from a field recording in a more cavernous surrounding, no doubt a St. Paul church in Veliko Tarnovo, which sounds fine, but which was maybe a bit too regular field recording becoming a drone. I thought it would have been nice if this were all a bit longer; it touches upon variation in these three pieces, but it could have been explored more, through some more pieces.
Frans de Waard, Vital Weekly, August 2016