Music

A Winged Victory for the Sullen's 'The Undivided Five' Is a Breathtaking Album Full of Subtlety

Photo: Jónatan Grétarsson / Courtesy of Ninja Tune

Each track of ambient duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen's The Undivided Five captures the sound of two exceptional musicians drawing in deep musical breaths and then exhaling something of lasting ethereal beauty.

The Undivided Five
A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Ninja Tune

1 November 2019

Both classical and ambient electronic music often have the power to transcend the physical and take the listener somewhere otherworldly. By blending the two, Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie, as A Winged Victory for the Sullen, do exactly that while also managing to tease out complicated and difficult to articulate emotions.

After working on scores of film, TV, and stage commissions, The Undivided Five is the pair's fifth release together and one that embraces the importance of the number five in art and music. Particularly inspired by Hilma af Klint's work with four other like-minded artists known as the "Friday Group" or "The Five" as well as the importance of the perfect fifth to harmony in music theory.

Musically, the pair weave a rich tapestry of complex electronic and neoclassical textures with layers of rich orchestration and analogue synths. However, it's also an album of contrasts. Many of the pieces seem to be searching for a counterpoint, whether that be a lightness to the darkness, resolution to moments of doubt or ugliness to passages of haunting beauty.

The effortless grandeur of "Our Lord Debussy" opens the album with chilly, gliding strings and dampened piano chords. Throughout the pair build a goosebump-inducing layer of musical elegance from uncommon chord phrases and a thick veneer of complex strings. "Sullen Sonata" features synth samples that the pair chew up and spit out into weightless, atmospheric electronics. There's a lightness and overwhelming stillness to the track as if locked in orbit. However, as the song progresses, the strings lend it a sense of gravity, which quickly draws the whole thing back down to earth.

On "The Haunted Victorian Pencil", the soft piano notes settle gently like fallen autumn leaves. The pair continue the fragile, mournful vibe on "The Slow Descent Has Begun". As violins and cellos intermingle, the pair remove all sense of stability as the piece gentle sinks into a solemn fall. Recorded in various places, including a church near Wiltzie's home, it has a fittingly spiritual feel to it amplified by the natural reverb provided by the high ceilings

"Aqualung Motherfucker" opens with bursts of noise, like the crackle of distant fireworks while ambient swells of synths and strings reveal themselves then disappear like a path that ultimately leads to darkness. "A Minor Fifth Is Made of Phantoms" continues to dance in the shadows. Steady, droning electronics give way to sudden, vivid layers of strings before ending in more resigned fashion as the strings fade out.

Over modular synth textures, "Adios, Florida" finds the hope and possibilities in goodbye while on "The Rhythm of a Dividing Pair", the duo tease the subtlest of melodies from various analogue synths. It's quietly stunning with the band slowly drawing light and air into the piece.

The closing song "Keep It Dark Deutschland" is an ode to the place where the band was born. Reflecting a time when their musical collaboration provided solace and reassurance from outside challenges and anxieties, the music finds hope in the darkness. As ambient strings and synths drift and then dissolve, the track invites the listener to meditate on the places that shape us.

The Undivided Five is an often breathtaking album full of subtlety. Open any door, and there is a deftly constructed melody waiting behind it, ready to wrap you in its arms. Each track captures the sound of two exceptional musicians drawing in deep musical breaths and then exhaling something of lasting ethereal beauty.

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