Review Summary: For those who like it gentle.
To the average Ancient Greek, the image of a winged victory would have meant a great deal of things. At the tip of it all, we have Nike, the goddess the winged victory depicts. The goddess of strength, speed and victory, often shown on a chariot, charging toward an unknown enemy. For the Greeks, certainly, the image meant defiance... defiance against the rest of the known world, the barbarians, whom the Greeks single handedly repelled as the world around them fell. In a word, it was a triumph
In this way, the album could not have described itself any better. As a culmination of decades spent in the servitude of music, both parts of this unlikely duo have blended seamlessly together to produce something rather wonderful. One half, Adam Wiltzie, brings with him his strong roots in ambient drone music from his work with "Stars of the Lid"
, the other is Dustin O 'Halloran, a - to this point - relatively unheard of pianist and composer, who supplies some of the most beautiful piano playing in existence. What we're left with is 7 meticulously crafted landscapes, each so rich and so vivid that reaching out to touch it feels plausible.
It's with this expansion of the limits to what you can do with sound where "A Winged Victory for the Sullen"
triumphs. The piano is deeply characterised in a way that we quickly make sense of all the intentions behind it. I suppose you could say that it's hesitant, sometimes building up only to shy away at the last minute before continuing softly, as if to avoid breaking the silence... Relative silence that is, the constant swelling of strings and woodwind should have felt like safe ground for Wiltzie, although he's never before succeeded quite as much as he does here.
"after almost 20 years of struggling to create interesting ambient drone music, I feel like I have finally figured out what I am doing"
- Wiltzie, after completing "Symphony Pathétique"
This comment is perfectly put, because that's exactly how the music feels
. It's a constant moment of clarity, like everything fits together to achieve a greater goal, whether that be within this "backdrop" of orchestral ambiance or, on a broader scale, the relationship of the ambiance and the piano.
This certainly isn't an uncommon relationship, Eluvium
and The Tumbled Sea
both excel at it. However in comparison their works seem clumsy and improperly thought out. In fact most things become awkward in the shadow of this LP, its perfectly deliberate nature invites comparisons even to Beehthoven as there is never a point where you can critique A Winged Victory for the Sullen
for missing an opportunity, or for playing a note too loudly or too softly. What reaches our ears is elegantly engineered, with an organic atmosphere and utterly faultless.
It's surprising, then, to learn of the few dark threads that have been woven into the album. "Requiem for the Static King Part 1"
was made in the memory of Mark Linkous, who took his own life in March, 2010. The music, however, does not indulge in the sad circumstances by which he killed himself, rather it offers a unique cocktail of sorrowful bliss. There's no piano, just pure, reflective ambiance: painting a funeral scene, or the last memory of an old, troubled hero.
"A Winged Victory for the Sullen"
represents the perfect late-night album, for the moments where, for you, the music is all that remains. As soft and rich and as it is brilliantly composed, we don't get many masterpieces these days, I'm thankful that I didn't miss this one.