Hope-Bound, Album, 2007

Third solo album by Susan Matthews

Review:

Susan Matthews : Hope-Bound
Sirenwire Recordings sw74

Hope-Bound (SW74) may be your choice if you’d like something which makes a few more concessions (for example, beats, melodies, keyboards and guitar samples) in favour of conventional song-form, although even here the imagination of Matthews is working hard to give a uniquely ghost-ridden quality to almost every one of these wistful songs. Her use of spectral piano on ‘Veiled’, for example, is sufficient to send shivers along the spine of many a skeleton. And whatever studio devices have been used to make the unholy twisted surfaces of ‘Missing’ make it a composition most worthy of investigation by your personal hearing apparatus. In places here (and on parts of the other albums), she’s coming close to a 21st century update on the great Virginia Astley.

Ed Pinsent, The Sound Projector, November 2008

Susan Matthews : Hope-Bound
Sirenwire Recordings sw74

It is always nice to have a little bit of connection with the artist when you purchase one of their albums. Whether buying a Jane Siberry album and finding in the package that she’s written a postcard thanking you for supporting her, or buying a Julian Cope album and getting his wife calling you because that CD is out of stock, it all kind of makes the whole experience a bit more personal. Susan Matthews cuts her own CD-Rs, prints out her own artwork and then goes to the post office to send it to you herself, and that’s enough to make me feel happy about it. (Yes I am quite easily pleased.) And it is only £3.98, including postage, so being cashless as I am, this seemed like a good buy. Oh, and the fact that musically it sounded like my cup of tea did come into the equation somewhere.

The more experimental type of music can often disappoint: for every album that sounds amazing, there is usually another that is tedious or annoyingly inpenitrable. Thankfully Susan stays the right side of the big sign saying “Failed – please try again”. On the odd occasion during this album when I think that the stretchy monster is off to visit Mr. Point, the track ends and another begins. Horrah! Overall the music sort of lurks between Laurie Anderson and Nurse With Wound without actually treading on either of their toes. It is an odd mixture of the uplifting and harsh. Take A Decoy Performance with a dialogue suggesting domestic violence juxtaposed with audience cheering and what sounds like a conversation between grandfather clocks. Or the rather lovely near ambient Missing with a gloopy blobby backdrop of noise trying to bring chaos into beauty. The whole album remains fascinating right up to the lengthy Suffusion with its Nurse With Wound like sound loops collapsing into deep internal organ threatening drones, somewhat akin to Sunn o))). Susan’s almost wordless vocals compliment most of the tracks like sweet kisses from that slightly weird Aunt that most of the family shun.

This is definately my favourite album of the moment, so I’m off to spend another £3.98, and so should you.

Boolbar, Boolblog, May 2008

Susan Matthews – Hope-Bound CDR
Sirenwire Recordings sw74

I don’t know what her neighbours think, but I’m oddly reassured to know that this strangely compelling music is being made somewhere in the agreeable west Wales town of Kidwelly. (No, let’s use the Welsh name – Cydweli – the English version sounds like something children wear in the rain). Either way, it’s not a location I would have identified as a hot bed of left-field sonic singularity, but on this album Susan Matthews has put together a collection of out-there explorations in which ambience and narrative, found sounds and lost noises are somehow hauled together to make something that will stir the thoughts inside your head even as it flicks you round the ear. ‘A Decoy Performance’ is a deceptive faux-live spoken word piece (at least, I assume the sudden bursts of clapping are not a genuine audience: the applause is used as a sound) which matches gamelan-style clangs and bongs to a genuinely unsettling tale of an escalating man-on-woman fight, all the more disturbung because the voice of the female victim, telling the story, is so calm. She could be decribing the scenery outside her window. ‘Veiled’ is almost monstic in its haunting drift; a keening, plangent thing that almost sounds like old stonework singing. ‘Seven Tears’ has a shuddering violin riff (and yes, it is defintiely a riff: if it were an electric guitar we’d be rockin’) around which a drum pattern that is more empty space than percussion fits itself. Wind instruments chatter like starlings in a tree, and a story is told in a voice that you can’t quite hear. ‘Missing’ has that AM radio we heard a little earlier on the Colt EP above burbling and crackling away again – it’s still not tuned in correctly – as a meticulous guitar picks and plucks. I’m struck by the odd thought that although Susan Matthews and Colt are probably coming in from different angles (Susan from the ambient experimental zone, Colt from rock ‘n’ roll) they are heading for some sort of metaphysical collision. Maybe they should listen to each other’s music. ‘A Dysfunctional Hush’ is all disembodied voices, colliding and whispering and sounds hum and whirr, while ‘Suffusion’ could be mutant bluegrass, a gusting wind blowing the sound of a distant hoedown across the railway line from Pembroke Dock as the night gathers in. No, it’s not rock ‘n’ roll – not even close – but these anomalous atmospheres have their own nerves-and-nightmares charm. I’m left with the thought that Susan Matthews is probably the coolest thing in Cydweli.

Uncle Nemesis, Nemesis To Go, Issue 5, April 2008

Susan Matthews – Hope-Bound CDR
Sirenwire Recordings sw74

Susan Matthews is a composer residing in South Wales who produces music filled with complex clouds of melody, harmony and ambience.  Her rolling instrumentation and swirling vocals produce a psychedelic and esoteric folk music that occupies the perceptual hinterland between free-music and  composition.  There is an exoticism at the core of Matthews compositions that is infused with the aromas of unfamiliar herbs and spices. There is a familiarity, shades of Irish, English and Arabian music, present that is always slightly, and ever so tantalisingly, out of reach. Matthews introduces us to a world of dream, illusion, transience and flux.  A world that is more often read than heard.  A world that I will be revisiting often.

Ian, Wonderful Wooden Reasons, Jan 2008

Susan Matthews – Hope Bound CD
Siren Wire Recordings, 2007

She is mystery personified. There is an aura about her that I find fascinating and captivating in equal measure. She appears fragile looking in her photographs yet a strength of will undeniably shines through. There’s a strange sexuality to her music and holds me spellbound. She is a mass of contradictions that I just can’t seem to decipher. I look into her eyes and see a million stories unfolding waiting to be told. She forever remains an out of reach enigma…only being touched by her hand through the dynamic sounds she creates. It was always meant to be this way.

Once upon a time Susan Matthews was a music journalist, which makes writing this review harder than ever knowing she will laugh at my inept musings, before she decided to get personally involved in creating her own music. In 2005 she set up her own record label, thus bypassing the bullshit and hassles that she knew existed within the music industry, and called it Siren Wire. Read into that name what you will. Her debut release was titled ‘SirenWire 69’ and had the catalogue number SW69. The sexual context within the catalogue number which is very hard to ignore. Soixante-neuf anyone. She followed that recording with ‘Bruiser’ and the EP’s ‘Botanical Rites’, ‘Tiny Grief’ and ‘Lost Sorrows’. All those recordings defining and redefining her own unique sound and style whilst progressing through the many phases in her musical development until we reach her latest offering ‘Hope-Bound’…and the best place for anyone unaware of her talents to begin with. Although to really appreciate her full range you should try and get all her previous releases I hasten to add. They are mesmerising on so many levels. But this review isn’t about her past work. Instead I must concentrate on ‘Hope-Bound’ and try and elucidate just how important a release this is.

Susan works principally within the ‘cross experimental / Avant-Garde’ music genres. She employs a very minimal stance to the eight song structures composed here and her dulcet vocal inflections are most ethereal / surreal in delivery. Part story teller and part confessional her music reaches into you and tugs at the heartstrings…which turns on a sixpence within the flash of an eye to become a creepy scary atmosphere as if she has donned the cape of a bunny boiler or a victim of circumstances beyond her control. Each piece of music drags you into her realms of fantasy and reality in ways that my words can’t do full or adequate justice to. Utilising simply drum patterns, piano, various instruments…some of which I can’t figure out and a multitude of electronics and effects, including a very nice looped piece to finish off, her vocal delivery is either softly spoken, manipulated or tragic angelically sung throughout. She manages to hold your attention, occasionally putting the vocals way back in the mix so you are forced to intently listen to her, as her serenades beguile and pique your interest in the subject matters she allows you to explore with her. I feel that divulging any more in regards to this aspect of ‘Hope-Bound’ would rightly ruin it for you. I’m not a total killjoy you know.

Make no bones about it but Susan Matthews is a serious star on the rise. Rightly she has garnered so much praise from all quarters for her body of work to date. In many ways she reminds me of Laurie Anderson…a comparison which is meant as a serious compliment to Susan’s undoubted talent. ‘Hope-Bound’ is a recording that transcends the whole experimental / Avant-Garde scene. The sheer diversity of her music within ‘Hope-Bound’ makes it, in my opinion, her best recording to date… but you should also seriously invest in her previous releases to see how she has matured and grown in stature since the start of her career. Susan is undoubtedly without equal currently within her musical sphere. I can’t think of anyone who comes close to her. Not even Miss Anderson.

‘Hope-Bound’ is my last ever review for Heathen Harvest as I retire to do other things. I deliberately left reviewing it to last as I wanted to leave on a high. With the scintillating music of ‘Hope-Bound’ still ringing in my ears I give thanks that musicians of the calibre of Susan Matthews exist today to take music to even greater levels of excellence. As Clint rightly would say…‘She has made my day’.

Alan Milne, Heathen Harvest, Dec 2007

Susan Matthews – Hope Bound CD
Siren Wire Recordings, 2007

“Hope-Bound” is Susan Matthews’ third album in as many years, each new release marking a progression and development in sound and expression over the last. As an avant-garde electronic musician, Matthews uses her music to express her thoughts and feelings, taking the music whichever way she feels appropriate. Similarities with other underground or avant-garde groups or musicians can be drawn, but they are purely coincidental as Matthews’ music is completely her own.

Introducing the album in familiar style and utilising her haunting vocal style to great effect, album opener “Passionate About You” has an abstract electronic folk feel. The second track – “A Decoy Performance” – is apparently a heartfelt account of domestic violence with spoken word commentary narrating the scene as if from a stage performance. While the music in “A Decoy Performance” is light and melodic, the mood itself is actually tense and sinister with music juxtaposing subject matter and perhaps depicting the happy public image in opposition to the dark, sinister private side the narrative portrays. “Joy’s Farewell” is a fitting follow-up to “A Decoy Performance,” as its disjointed drumming and swirling electronics provide a disorientating backdrop to Matthews’ spoken word vocals, which focus on a woman delivering an ultimatum. With “Veiled,” Matthews’ melodic piano and beautifully ethereal, almost choral, vocals create a wonderfully gentle track with just a touch of electronic abstraction for good measure. In contrast, “Seven Tears” has an entirely more edgy, anxious and almost break-driven mood about it with several flute-type instruments augmenting the mood, sometimes in an apparently semi-random and uncompromising manner.

Things calm down again for “Missing,” which places Matthews’ spoken voice and floating harmonies under the crackling feedback of a radio. This slowly dies out, to be replaced with melodic acoustic guitar, Matthews’ sung/spoken vocals and sparkling electronics. Showing the diversity of her talent, “A Dysfunctional Hush” is essentially drone-based with hypnotic tones holding the attention while Matthews’ manipulated voice adds another level of emotive intensity to the track. A relatively simple idea beautifully executed. Drawing the album to a close is the fourteen-minute “Suffusion” – an electronic track with an insistent loop and attention-grabbing tones and whirs augmented by an equally insistent piano loop and some reversed electronic effects. Each new sound is layered on top of the others, creating a dense mass of hazy electronic chatter, each layer interacting as more sounds are added. Eventually the layers are stripped away and built up again, only to ultimately break down into low rumbling bassy drones. Definitely an avant-garde track to close the album, but also a track that is well structured and a constantly evolving experiment within a set of defined parameters.

“Hope-Bound” appears more positive in mood than Matthews’ previous albums but, while the sound is generally more polished, the intensity of feeling and experimental qualities are all still there. Matthews continues to go from strength to strength with each release, offering something new and interesting every time.

She is also hard working, with several projects running in parallel at any given time. Amazingly, Matthews’ next album (her second this year), entitled “The Silent Architect,” is due for release before Christmas 2007, with an EP of alternate versions of five album tracks entitled “Silent Variations” to be released simultaneously. She is also working on a remix album and has several other projects, compilation tracks and collaborations in the pipeline too.

Paul Lloyd [8/10], Connexion Bizarre, Oct 2007

Susan Matthews – Hope-Bound
(Pre-release Promo)

“Hope-Bound” begins where “Lost Sorrows” left off but quickly shifts into a new direction, bypassing any sense of security or comfort you may have had by injecting early familiar sounds with new and unexpected movements. By track three, you’re somewhere else completely. It’s possibly her best work to date. It’s certainly her most accessible in terms of sound composition, some of these tracks are almost song-like, and even the title might suggest an about turn, that she’s going to be crawling back out of the rabbit hole. Don’t let her fool you, she’s probably just found something down there worth smiling about. And it doesn’t really matter which way you’re facing, when she’s got her fingers pressed this close to your nerve endings the journey up is always going to be as intense as the journey down.

“Hope-Bound” should secure Susan as a leading figure in whatever industrial/ethereal avant garde music movement eventually attaches itself to her, because right now she’s out on her own and way ahead of the pack. You can’t pigeon hole her material. You could say it’s part Eraserhead, part fairytale, part domestic horror story, but you’d only be scratching the surface. Susan is not currently playing by anyone else’s rules and the result is unique and brilliant. Filmmakers and sound editors start taking notes. Lynch-Heads stop and listen.

Dan Scaffer, LiveJournal, May 2007

 

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