A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Atomos

The second album of A Winged Victory for the Sullen (let’s just call them AWVftS from here) – the follow-up to 2011’s self titled debut – was eagerly anticipated.
The release of the preceding 12″ EP last april (featuring Atomos VII with an additional remix version by Ben Frost) was an appetizer for the october release of the full Atomos album this month, coinciding with their tour around Europe, Australia and the US.

AWVftS is often referred to as a duo consisting of Adam Wiltzie (core member of the legendary Stars of the Lidguess there’s no further introduction needed) and pianist/composer Dustin O’Halloran. But AWVftS  would not be AWVftS without the (now 7-member) string section and the additional modular synth sounds created by Francesco Donadello. Together they present a full orchestral sound with a fascinating balance of string arrangements, melancholic piano melodies and (somewhat unsettling) synth embeddings.

Composing for Atomos started when Random Dance Company‘s choreographer Wayne McGregor asked Adam and Dustin to write the score for his new dance production. They got full carte blanche for their compositions, which also brought them the freedom to let it grow into a full album release.

Random Dance Company – Atomos

While the compositions are more dynamic in nature than the “tired sounds” of the Stars of the Lid ever were, the -s-l-o-w- music of Atomos still seems to be a bold choice for a dance production soundtrack – but probably that’s the exact reason McGregor chose them.
Whether the sounds match the dancers moves is something I better leave to be judged to experts of modern dance (and to those that have witnessed a Random Dance Company performance).
As a separate audio-only release it loses none of its imaginative power.

Opening with a sequence quoting from Philip Glass’s compositional techniques, AWVftS soon leaves the trodden paths to create their own unique blend of surprises – combining the smooth strings with unusual electronics (and some haunting sub-low synths).
On superficial listening this album leaves a somewhat superficial impression. But it isn’t: on closer listening, you’ll hear all subtle details. Listen, for example, to the sound manipulation of the piano note overtones in the opening of Atomos III.
For ‘post-classical’ soundtrack music, there’s always a risk of drifting into one-dimensional, somewhat melodramatic arrangements.
But AWVftS miraculously avoid these pitfalls and create a 62 minute symphony displaying their firm grip on this musical idiom.

Strangely enough, there’s no number IV among the twelve parts of Atomos. The question is even posed on the album cover notes: “Whatever happened to IV?”
My guess is that the nature of this part was probably too different from the others so including it on the album would break the spell. But we’ll probably find out about this in the future when the missing track will find its way out.

Shortly after its release the album charted up the UK Record Store album chart – which is a remarkable feat for any ‘indie ambient soundtrack’ album.
This may prove to be the Winged Victory of the Ambient String Superstars ! (No acronyms  here, please)

A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Atomos II

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