The grandiloquently named project of a pair of blue riband mood-casters, A Winged Victory for the Sullen combines the talents of Italophile Californian pianist Dustin O'Halloran and Stars of the Lid's ambient drone-meister Adam Wiltzie, another American who these days calls Europe (Belgium, in his case) home. True to their chosen moniker, the music that this cosmopolitan duo fashion regularly takes wing and it's certainly a victory for subtlety, sensitivity and judiciousness over broad, flashy musical brushstrokes. Sullen, mercifully, it is not.
O'Halloran and Wiltzie (there's a buddy cop show waiting to happen, surely?) were drawn together in Bologna, Italy, at one of the final shows by the late Mark Linkous' much-revered Sparklehorse, with whom Wiltzie was touring (indeed, the two-part Requiem for the Static King, which lies at the heart of this seven-essay album, is dedicated to Linkous). Both enamoured of piano-based atmosphere and understated chamber orchestration (not to mention fine continental cuisine, apparently), the duo bonded in a number of European studio locations, fleshing out their crepuscular electronic keyboard drones and elegantly restrained piano motifs with lavish strings from the ubiquitous Peter Broderick and Icelandic cellist Hildur Gu�nad�ttir.
The results are, almost inevitably, meditative and cinematic, but also, more unusually for music of this so-called 'post-classical' stripe, rich in melody and genuinely haunting, numinous atmosphere. Thus, tremulous, pensive opener We Played Some Open Chords, while doing exactly what it says on the proverbial tin, sounds like a particularly brooding Harold Budd �tude sporadically weighted with Gavin Bryars-like orchestral gravitas, the latter tonalities warding off the chocolate boxy prettiness to which O'Halloran's solo works are occasionally prone.
The aforementioned, two-part Requiem for the Static King follows, its melancholy, Stars of the Lid-like drift/drone-scaping proffering a rapturous, John Dowland-meets-Brian Eno, Renaissance-ambient tone bath in which it is impossible not to become totally immersed. The ensuing Minuet for a Cheap Piano Number Two blends further geodesic drones with stately piano figures and updrafts of swooning, soaring cello - again recalling Gavin Bryars (particularly his masterful The Sinking of the Titanic), while the marvellously titled Steep Hills of Vicodin Tears, the highlight here, builds from muted electronic static to a gorgeous, near symphonic climax.
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A Winged Victory For The Sullen is the first installment of the new collaboration between Stars Of The Lid member Adam Wiltzie and L.A. composer Dustin O Halloran. The duo agreed to leave the comfort zone of their home studios and develop the recordings with the help of large acoustic spaces, hunting down a selection of 9ft grand pianos that had the ability to deliver extreme sonic low end. Other traditional instrumentation was used including string quartet, French horn, and bassoon, but always juxtaposed is the sound of drifting guitar washed melodies. The recordings began with one late night session in the famed Grunewald Church in Berlin on a 1950s imperial Bösendorfer piano and strings were added in the historic East Berlin DDR radio studios along the River Spree. One last session on a handmade Fazioli piano in a private studio on the Northern cusp of Italy, before the final mixes took place in a 17th century villa near Ferrara with the assistance of Francesco Donadello. All songs were then processed completely analogue straight to magnetic tape. Their secret to harvesting new melodic structures from the thin air of existence was for the duo to push themselves to dangerous territory, realising that clear thinking at the wrong moment could stifle the compositions. The final result is seven landscapes of harmonic ingemination. In Requiem For The Static King Part One created in memory of the untimely passing of Mark Linkous they have taken the age-old idea of a string quartet and then shot it out of a cannon to reveal exquisite new levels of sonic bliss. Of the 13 minute track Symphony Pathétique , Wiltzie says after almost 20 years of struggling to create interesting ambient drone music, I feel like I have finally figured out what I am doing . Notable guest musicians include Icelandic cellist Hildur Gudnadottir, as well as Erased Tapes label comrade Peter Broderick on violin. A Winged Victory For The Sullen is not a side project it is the future of the late night record you have always dreamed of.