As you might expect, A Winged Victory For The Sullen doesn’t play lighthearted surf-rock, nor is it a manic techno act or an oompah band. As its name suggests, it’s an ambient-minded neoclassical duo that likes its sounds intensely measured, contemplative and slow.
The gist is similar for Stars Of The Lid, the beloved ambient drone project of which Winged Victory’s Adam Wiltzie is a founding member. Now, in collaboration with pianist Dustin O’Halloran, his style is equally mesmerizing, with a touch more room for melody and slightly more air to breathe. The first track on Atomos, the second Winged Victory album after a swooning debut in 2011, opens with a heaving organ sound that makes its way patiently through a cycle of chords that take their time to coalesce. It’s both grainy and beatific, as if created to be played in a grotty old gothic church. Then, strings enter and begin to patiently, portentously saw their way into a state of rumination. By four minutes in, the swelling track has dialed down to mostly just the strings, and then, around 5:30, it all drops out to make space for piano. That none of the changes are apparent as they’re actually happening — they’re noticeable only in retrospect, when trying to make sense of where the sound has wandered — speaks to the entrancing quality of music conceived to make listeners feel eerily, gloriously lost.
All of the slow, barely moving tracks on Atomos were commissioned for choreography, which proves less surprising upon learning that the choreographer, Wayne McGregor, worked on Thom Yorke‘s weird, wiggly writhing in Radiohead‘s “Lotus Flower” video. Few moments on the album would seem to lend themselves especially easily to dance — maybe the pretty piano, jaunty by comparison, in “Atomos III,” or the stately strings and subtly strobing electronics in “Atomos VIII,” or the lithe cluster of seesawing notes in “Atomos VIII.” On the whole, however, the album is emotionally moving. It’s never quite clear whether it would be more fitting to smile or cry, but somewhere in the middle is a state worth visiting.