The Cartography of Fear

Susan Matthews was one of those represented on the UK micro-label Earth Monkey Productions earlier this year, where she collaborated with Clutter. She kindly sent in a batch of her solo releases from her home in Kidwelly. 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.

Homothetique Richochet
(SIREN WIRE RECORDINGS SW79) is a collaboration she did with Parisian artiste Rainier Lericolais. This one is even more abstracted and distant, combining slow and wispy electronic modernist instrumentals with strange layers of whispered vocals. The titles, written in French, allude to certain uncomfortable aspects of human relationships such as ‘long dysfunctional silence’. If there’s an imaginary couple glimpsed in the interstices of this album, they’re having trouble controlling their darker passions and agonise for long hours as they strive to reach a state of honesty which most people spend their lives trying to avoid. Pretty heavy going, and I found it hard to grasp onto anything very tangible in these dreamy atmospheres, but the sound world created here is new and unusual.

The Silent Architect (SW75) was made in 2007. On it, Ms Matthews appears on the cover (photographed by Mark Ingram) posing alongside the old stones of a country wall entangled with ivy creepers, with various expressions of uncertainty on her gaunt visage. On the grooves we hear ten ambiguous and semi-poetic explorations in sound, where the weather, the seasons, and the times of day are used to express aspects of unknown states of mind. Her own thin voice is aided by the eerie vocals of Hoel le Quenven on four of these cuts, some of which are enhanced with appropriate field recordings and sound effects, such as ocean waves on ‘The Mariner’s Lament’. Come to that, since there is the sound of a bonfire on ‘Samhain Lullaby’, I wouldn’t be surprised if all four elements (fire, air, earth and water) are represented hereon.

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.