A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos (Erased Tapes)
One of the most spellbinding shows I’ve been to in the last few years was the Irish debut in January 2012 of A Winged Victory For The Sullen in support of the release of their self-titled first album. I wrote some words on the gig at the time, it really was pretty monumental. In fact, hearing that music live in the presence of another 100 people or so was bordering on emotional.
So the second album by Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Wiltzie is quite an event for me. And it doesn’t disappoint. I’m afraid words like grandeur and majesty will have to do once again to describe this slowly shifting maelstrom of strings, piano and ambient hum.
And as with the first album, despite (maybe because of?) the poise of the music, the restraint, there’s still something deeply romantic about it. What does that mean? Well, it seems to connote some vague sense of human yearning, something primal. Maybe for love, contact, a search for identity even, in this universe of ours.
The melodies are simple and direct mostly, lead by O’Halloran’s piano or strings, unshowy but massed and layered for maximum impact. Those melody lines are like the miniature details close at hand, while Wiltzie’s industrial interventions act like premonitions of infinity. The skittering samples of distant radio voices on ‘Atomos IX’ and ‘Atomos X’ for example, filtered and distorted so as to be out of reach of understanding.
That directness makes me think of other classically-trained musicians who have “dialled down” their technique to great effect to escape the strictures of classicism - perhaps also in search of a more authentic form of expression - people like Julia Kent and Matthew Bourne. As with those, the tone and bearing of this album is one of unstrained gravitas, a dignified air in no danger of earnestness.
It’s particularly vivid music too, bringing to mind specific imagery. For example, you could imagine some of those evolution scenes from 2001: A Space Odyssey over the early, tentative notes of ‘Atomos VII’. The suspense, the slow release of tension into a machine drone as the strings submerge.
And as you’d expect from any meditation on the human condition – for that is exactly what this album feels like – there is heartrending, sumptuous melancholy at every turn.
Let yourself get lost in it, it’s another wonderful piece of work.
*The genesis of the album by the way was an invitation from dance choreographer Wayne McGregor. Listen to Dustin and Adam speak about that below.