A Winged Victory for the Sullen: Atomos

The duo’s impeccable, immovable second album was conceived as an original score for a dance performance.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen


Label: Kranky / Erased Tapes
US Release Date: 2014-10-07
UK Release Date: 2014-10-06

Wayne McGregor’s choreography can be unsettling in its unpredictability. In his dance piece, Atomos, the performers follow their own trajectories, ping-ponging off of one another, coming together briefly and then breaking apart again. They never seem to make the same move in exactly the same way twice, and the narrative of their motion is grounded in chaos. Indeed, they are like atoms colliding with one another.

A Winged Victory for the Sullen recorded their original score for Atomos in the summer of 2013 in Germany and Iceland. Iceland in particular seems an appropriate location for the birth of such a music that can at times be glacially monolithic and immovable. Initially, the vision of members of the Wayne McGregor Random Dance company fluttering amongst one another can feel out of sync from the slow tidal pull of the music behind it. It doesn’t take long, though, to see how if the dancers are the planetary bodies spinning on their elliptical paths, the music of Atomos is the celestial vapor that surrounds and envelops them, giving their portion of the universe its outline, if not quite its shape.

This is the second studio record for the duo of Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran. Being one half of a duo has worked out exceptionally well for Wiltzie, who for more than 20 years has been partners with Brian McBride in making classic-informed ambient music as Stars of the Lid. O’Halloran, pianist and composer of ambient-informed classical music, on the other hand, has in recent years worked largely under his name alone, though doing so with the help of a number of notable contributors. His most recent solo album, Lumiere, released in 2011, featured, among others, fellow composer Peter Broderick, and, naturally, Wiltzie. Lumiere featured some of O’Halloran’s most refined material to-date, with striking, instantly memorable pieces such as “We Move Lightly” and “Fragile N. 4” speaking to both his melodic ambition and maturing refinement. Though O’Halloran’s compositions are comparatively busier than the drone Wiltzie is renowned for, it must have surprised no one that their approaches would complement each other so naturally.

On record, it is the equal presence of O’Halloran’s piano that draws the most easily identifiable distinction between A Winged Victory for the Sullen and Stars of the Lid. The trick on A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s self-titled debut album – released in the same year as Lumiere -- was that the opening song, “We Played Some Open Chords”, at first sounded pretty much like a Stars of the Lid song, but only long enough for listeners familiar with SOTL to be convinced they knew where things were headed. Then, one minute in, O’Halloran’s deep, resonant piano came in to provide density to the ethereal. With the first track of Atomos, “I”, that delay is extended by nearly five minutes, and, even after that, it really isn’t until “III” that the piano reclaims the same place of prominence.

Atomos is the creation of only two people, but the many contributing musicians on the album, along with the spaces it was recorded in, account for the album having a sound noticeably wider in scope than A Winged Victory for the Sullen. The five different cellists, two violinists, as well as a viola and modular synthesizer, are something like the electrons circling the core protons and neutrons of O’Halloran and Wiltzie. As its hour elapses, Atomos seems to gradually expand. With each successive Roman numeral -- well, almost successive, as the liner notes address: “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO IV” – the movements don’t necessarily build momentum so much as they accumulate a sonic mass of inexorable gravity.





'Everything's Gonna Be Okay' Is  Better Than Okay

The first season of Freeform's Everything's Gonna Be Okay is a funny, big-hearted love letter to family.


Jordan Rakei Breathes New Life Into Soul Music

Jordan Rakei is a restless artistic spirit who brings R&B, jazz, hip-hop, and pop craft into his sumptuous, warm music. Rakei discusses his latest album and new music he's working on that will sound completely different from everything he's done so far.


Country Music's John Anderson Counts the 'Years'

John Anderson, who continues to possess one of country music's all-time great voices, contemplates life, love, mortality, and resilience on Years.


Rory Block's 'Prove It on Me' Pays Tribute to Women's Blues

The songs on Rory Block's Prove It on Me express the strength of female artists despite their circumstances as second class citizens in both the musical world and larger American society.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 3, Echo & the Bunnymen to Lizzy Mercier Descloux

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part three with Echo & the Bunnymen, Cabaret Voltaire, Pere Ubu and more.


Wendy Carlos: Musical Pioneer, Reluctant Icon

Amanda Sewell's vastly informative new biography on musical trailblazer Wendy Carlos is both reverent and honest.


British Folk Duo Orpine Share Blissful New Song "Two Rivers" (premiere)

Orpine's "Two Rivers" is a gently undulating, understated folk song that provides a welcome reminder of the enduring majesty of nature.


Blesson Roy Gets "In Tune With the Moon" (premiere)

Terry Borden was a member of slowcore pioneers Idaho and a member of Pete Yorn's band. Now he readies the debut of Blesson Roy and shares "In Tune With the Moon".


In 'Wandering Dixie', Discovering the Jewish South Is Part of Discovering Self

Sue Eisenfeld's Wandering Dixie is not only a collection of dispatches from the lost Jewish South but also a journey of self-discovery.


Bill Withers and the Curse of the Black Genius

"Lean on Me" singer-songwriter Bill Withers was the voice of morality in an industry without honor. It's amazing he lasted this long.


Jeff Baena Explores the Intensity of Mental Illness in His Mystery, 'Horse Girl'

Co-writer and star Alison Brie's unreliable narrator in Jeff Baena's Horse Girl makes for a compelling story about spiraling into mental illness.


Pokey LaFarge Hits 'Rock Bottom' on His Way Up

Americana's Pokey LaFarge performs music in front of an audience as a way of conquering his personal demons on Rock Bottom.


Joni Mitchell's 'Shine' Is More Timely and Apt Than Ever

Joni Mitchell's 2007 eco-nightmare opus, Shine is more timely and apt than ever, and it's out on vinyl for the first time.


'Live at Carnegie Hall' Captures Bill Withers at His Grittiest and Most Introspective

Bill Withers' Live at Carnegie Hall manages to feel both exceptionally funky and like a new level of grown-up pop music for its time.


Dual Identities and the Iranian Diaspora: Sepehr Debuts 'Shaytoon'

Electronic producer Sepehr discusses his debut album releasing Friday, sparing no detail on life in the Iranian diaspora, the experiences of being raised by ABBA-loving Persian rug traders, and the illegal music stores that still litter modern Iran.


From the Enterprise to the Discovery: The Decline and Fall of Utopian Technology and the Liberal Dream

The technology and liberalism of recent series such as Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard, and the latest Doctor Who series have more in common with Harry Potter's childish wand-waving than Gene Roddenberry's original techno-utopian dream.


The 50 Best Post-Punk Albums Ever: Part 2, The B-52's to Magazine

This week we are celebrating the best post-punk albums of all-time and today we have part two with the Cure, Mission of Burma, the B-52's and more.


Emily Keener's "Boats" Examines Our Most Treasured Relationships (premiere)

Folk artist Emily Keener's "Boats" offers a warm look back on the road traveled so far—a heartening reflection for our troubled times.


Paul Weller - "Earth Beat" (Singles Going Steady)

Paul Weller's singular modes as a soul man, guitar hero, and techno devotee converge into a blissful jam about hope for the earth on "Earth Beat".


On Point and Click Adventure Games with Creator Joel Staaf Hästö

Point and click adventure games, says Kathy Rain and Whispers of a Machine creator Joel Staaf Hästö, hit a "sweet spot" between puzzles that exercise logical thinking and stories that stimulate emotions.

Collapse Expand Reviews
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.