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