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A Winged Victory for the Sullen - A Winged Victory for the Sullen

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Artist: A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Album: A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Label: Kranky

Review date: Sep. 12, 2011

Looking over The Stars of the Lid discography, one finds an abundance of subtle contradictions: languorous music that delves into the ambient world while retaining substance. Similar qualities inhabit the music made by Stars of the Lid members Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride; the latter’s The Effective Disconnect, released last year, grafted a sentimental mood to quietly textured and drone-infused compositions. Adam Wiltzie’s work outside of Stars of the Lid generally takes the shape of collaborations: as Aix En Klemm, with Bobby Donne; and as The Dead Texan, with Christina Vantzou. A Winged Victory for the Sullen is his latest project; his collaborator here is Dustin O’Halloran, whose album Vorleben entered the world a few months ago. Their debut is a strikingly cohesive work, lacking the moments heard on many first records in which a band still seems to be figuring out the nature of its sound.

It might also be that Wiltzie’s work does have a shared aesthetic that’s deeply perceptible. Unlike The Dead Texan, which flirted very loosely (and effectively) with pop structures, the seven pieces here are more impressionistic; while there are structures in place, the overall effect is one of contrasts, of quieter sections giving way to the presence of a host of instruments. “We Played Some Open Chords” opens up gradually, its strings softly increasing in volume as a piano melody evolves, cycling back around to a short and memorable motif.

Throughout this album, there’s a repeated evocation of flight. “A Symphony Pathetique,” in particular, evokes wind rushing past a vessel at high speeds. This isn’t shocking, given the group’s name, but it should be noted that this is less a summoning of the “winged victory” archetype and more a drift through cloudscapes. At the same time, there’s also a sense of fragility just below the surface: Early on during A Winged Victory for the Sullen, "A Requiem for the Static King Part One” — written in memory of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous — introduces mortality to the proceedings. This plaintive quality never abates, and resonates more strongly after repeated listens.

Ultimately, this is work that both envelops and endures, summoning a sense of majestic space even as it slips in references to unanswerable questions. In the end, Wiltzie and O’Halloran’s collaboration stands as an impressive album on its own merits and one of the strongest efforts in the world of Stars of the Lid offshoots. No small achievement.

By Tobias Carroll

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