A Winged Victory for the Sullen
Invisible Cities


4.0
excellent

Review

by Nic Renshaw CONTRIBUTOR (28 Reviews)
March 17th, 2021 | 23 replies


Release Date: 02/26/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Nodding to their past while looking towards their future, and finding continued relevance in the process.

In the weeks leading up to its release, I felt a sort of quiet, curious excitement over A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s Invisible Cities. I deliberately avoided listening to the track released in advance—after all, ambient is an “album genre” if ever there was one—but I still found myself wondering what the duo of Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O'Halloran had concocted for their fourth full-length LP. Would it continue down the warmer and more detailed path of their last album, 2019's The Undivided Five? Would it be a return to the despondent, sparse compositions of their 2011 self-titled debut? Or would its origin as part of an experimental theater production place it closer to Atomos, their electronica-tinged ballet score from 2014?

Despite my eagerness to compare it to the duo’s excellent past work, Invisible Cities manages to stand apart from its predecessors and forge its own unique identity. More than anything, the album cultivates a surprisingly tense and uneasy mood. AWVFTS usually specializes in imbuing tranquil soundscapes with a profound sense of melancholy, the epitome of the old saying "still waters run deep." Here, their sonic status quo shifts. The weary horn fanfares of “The Celestial City” buckle under an ominous, minor-key piano motif and ghostly, wordless vocals, and the furtively plucked harps on "Nothing of the City Touches the Earth" conjure an urgency that the band has rarely, if ever, explored previously.

In perhaps the most surprising moment of the album, the grinding distortion that swallows "There Is One of Which You Never Speak" evokes Yellow Swans at their most spaced-out, or Tim Hecker at his most frenzied. Wiltzie and O’Halloran will mark the 10-year anniversary of their debut later this year, and they've certainly garnered enough acclaim, both together and on their own, to get by using their past works as blueprints. With all that in mind, it's exciting to hear the duo still pushing themselves artistically, still finding new tricks and tools to incorporate into their music.

Invisible Cities also breaks from AWVFTS tradition with its track list. Thirteen tunes, almost all hovering around three and a half minutes in length, provides a notable distinction from their previous albums, which generally favored fewer and lengthier compositions. This allows the album room for some material in a more typically mellow AWVFTS mold, like the austere opening track, "So That The City Can Begin to Exist," in addition to the aforementioned tracks taking their sound into unfamiliar territory. The smorgasbord of bite-sized ambient pieces also gives both members a chance to flex their own individual skills: O'Halloran's mournful piano dominates "Only Strings and Their Supports Remain" and "The Merchants of Seven Nations," while Wiltzie's washes of guitar-based ambience take the foreground on "The Dead Outnumber the Living" and "Thirteenth Century Travelogue." While it’s tempting at times to miss how seamlessly the two meshed across their earlier albums, getting to hear each musician stretch out and show off a bit is hardly something worth complaining about, especially when tracks such as the closer, “Total Perspective Vortex,” combine their powers to such stunning and cinematic effect.

This is still music for those with a taste for the moodier side of ambient music—although this album finds Wiltzie and O’Halloran more restless and unsettled than ever, I suspect they won’t find themselves awash in new converts because of it. And sure, the Stars of the Lid fans who want everything Wiltzie does to be another The Tired Sounds Of... will probably walk away a tad underwhelmed, if not necessarily disappointed. But for those of us attuned to AWVFTS’s brand of explorative soundscaping, Invisible Cities offers a worthy update on their style and proves that they’re still far from running out of new horizons to reach towards.



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user ratings (37)
3.4
great

Comments:Add a Comment 
Kompys2000
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


5646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yayyy it's my first review as contrib (and my most positive one in a little while, too!)



Check this one out y'all, it's a goodie.

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DivergentThinking
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


8688 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Nice review! I've been getting back into ambient music recently so I'll give this a listen. Luckily I haven't checked out anything from this duo yet, so it'll be a clean slate for me and I won't have any previous works to compare to :]

Jash
March 17th 2021


4281 Comments


Still haven’t listened yet, waiting to get a copy of the vinyl from my local shop, but this review has me all kinds of excited now. Nice work on the review

Digging: Youth Novel - Youth Novel

Nocte
Staff Reviewer
March 17th 2021


13964 Comments


Contrib reviews popping up everywhere : )

RogueNine
March 17th 2021


4673 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

Glad this has a review.

kevbogz
March 17th 2021


2956 Comments


wow this is simultaneously pretty and berry spooky

Digging: Whirr - Feels Like You

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


7531 Comments


Oh nice, didn't know they had an album released!

Digging: Andy Stott - Never the Right Time

Kompys2000
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


5646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yeah I only knew it was coming out because I follow them on bandcamp, I guess they're not promoting it as much because it's a kinda sorta soundtrack thing?

RadioSuicide
March 17th 2021


1806 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

I've listened to these dudes off and on throughout quarantine, especially O'Halloran's solo stuff, and they are simply wonderful. good review, excited to check

Pikazilla
March 17th 2021


15498 Comments


Nice review!

Only ever checked the debut and loved it.

RadioSuicide
March 17th 2021


1806 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

you might dig Atomos, Pika. i enjoy them about the same.



this was underwhelming :/

Deathconscious
March 17th 2021


26147 Comments


Is this better than the last two? The s/t is one of my favorite ambient albums, but their next ones didnt do much for me.

dedex
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


7531 Comments


^ smae, debut is where it's @

Storm In A Teacup
March 17th 2021


31371 Comments


sounds like Winglys to me

Kompys2000
Contributing Reviewer
March 17th 2021


5646 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

@deathconscious I'd say I like this a little less than Undivided Five but a little more than Atomos, but I really dig both those albums and this is different enough that it's probably worth checking regardless of how you feel about their last two



Also agreed that s/t is far and away their masterpiece

ResidentNihilist
March 17th 2021


2050 Comments


Great review, will check.

Atomos' is my favourite tbh so far

Gyromania
March 18th 2021


32259 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Maybe it's partly due to the rly intense lucid dreams I was just having, but I played this as I was waking up and enjoyed it a lot. Beautiful stuff, excited for a second spin to see if it sticks.



A very nice review too!

hel9000
Contributing Reviewer
March 18th 2021


1158 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Nice review, thought this was solid but seems like a minor work for them. Debut is still where it’s at

Bedex
March 18th 2021


2639 Comments


they have a new album? NICE cheers for getting it rev'd

normaloctagon
March 18th 2021


5129 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

really nice review kompys. i'm not familiar with these guys, but currently enjoying this album very much



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