A Winged Victory For The Sullen – ATOMOS (Erased Tapes, 2014)

I’m a bit burnt out over Ambient music lately, if I’m going to be honest. That’s not to say, of course, that I don’t still love it and enjoy it but sometimes I lose sight of diversity and entrench myself too deeply and get into a rut over it. It comes and goes, I’m sure I’m not the only one to experience disenchantment over things from time to time, and I was hoping that some recent albums might be able to break the spell, particularly ATOMOS. A duet formed of Stars of the Lid’s Adam Wiltzie and pianist Dustin O’Halloran, A Winged Victory For The Sullen would appear to be a match made in heaven, especially after their debut was a luscious record of minimal and introspective Ambient and Modern Classical turnings; this, their sophomore release, came from their resultant work on a score for a choreographed dance piece. Sadly, this results in an album that, for me at least, fails to materialise as an entity, an album that explores intermittent cul-de-sacs of emotional investment only to deviate away in the proceeding track.

That’s not to say that all scores are terrible; indeed, Fennesz’s work for Touch Radio a couple of years ago resulted in the creation of a gorgeous, 50 minute seamless arc of guitar drone, again for an alternative dance performance, in the amazing On Invisible Pause, but ATOMOS seems to suffer from the same issues that I have with film scores; beautiful, well executed music can be found at many, many points throughout the album but there’s nothing other than a non-directly viewable connection to all these tracks that keeps the listener aloof and disconnected. Where is the arc, where is the cohesion?

The only tracks that seem to actually display any direct relation to one another fall in the mid-album between VI and VII; VI unwinds in initial movements of gorgeous SotL drone before migrating out of this cosy void into the turbulent tracts of electronica and agitated instrumentation, bowing out to minimal piano turnings that segue directly into VII and its, again, initially contented drone chasm, never allowed to take flight as it tries to build traction in the, at this point, already idiosyncratic violin pulses. Some other pieces outside of the more formulaic do seem to complement one another from opposites sides of the album, in particular III and IX where Dustin has obviously taken over proceedings and been allowed to create his own downtempo piano movements with wistfully romantic overtones and thin veneers of drone, insistent in their execution but not pushy with their emotions.

Aside from this the rest are singular entities, floating in a void, albeit ones that are mostly rather good even if they share no common goal; the 10 minute opener is a glorious piece of migrating thought that effortlessly pushes out of anxious, see-sawing violins into relaxed and calm oblivion, spinning out endless drone lines and delicate piano plods. VIII is another, except in reverse, instead rising out of an initial, onset fugue, pushing its own limits and comfort zone in turbulent strings and choppy electronica before toppling over its own creeping insistence at the end. Not too dissimilar to this is penultimate piece XI; once again not content to languish in melancholia it comes out of its shell with rhythmic persistence and playful piano before peaking in confidence in a vast textural forest at its pinnacle, awash with preeminent organ drone and energetic strings.

ATOMOS just doesn’t take me anywhere, it doesn’t waft me along on a tentative, emotional journey, it just seems pretty content to park the bus on each and every piece, to regurgitate the same crescendos and evoke the same, vaguely nostalgic and romantic pining at every turn. There’s no denying its inherent consistency or its incipient quality, both in terms of production as well as one-shot emotional potency, but I just don’t think I should feel like I’m stagnating in each successive piece, knowing that the next one to come along isn’t going to further the album’s discourse. Individually great, but wholly underwhelming.

2 thoughts on “A Winged Victory For The Sullen – ATOMOS (Erased Tapes, 2014)

  1. Since you admit you are “burnt out over Ambient music lately”, then perhaps this was not the right time to review an ambient album. The rather harsh dismissal may just as well be a result of that burn-out rather than a fair assessment of the work’s merits.

    • To consider this a rather harsh dismissal is I think something of an over-exaggeration. I commend the album at many points; just because on the whole I only consider this to be mildly above average doesn’t mean I’ve outright rejected it as a work. Many people have messaged me and cited this as the sole point for me not enjoying the record and I admit that it may have played some role, which is precisely why I was honest and relay that in the first line of the review. But if you read on I feel like I’ve made valid points of criticism on a few aspects of the album that, for me personally, affected my enjoyment of it regardless of my current feelings towards Ambient music.
      HearFeel unfortunately is focused on largely Ambient music and had it not been ATOMOS being reviewed then it would have been something else; makes me wonder how many other reviewers and music journalists have suffered disenchantment with music and continued to write (for money, perhaps), and how many albums have subsequently been given “harsh dismissals” as a result.

      I hope that clears things up a little.


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