In a previous post detailing 2010’s left-of-center musical delicacies, I made reference to my friend Michael Campbell’s essential role in illuminating the possibilities of recorded music to me over long winter afternoons in Putnam County, New York. I finally understood the allure of improvisational sound construction, and acknowledged the masters who can harness the seemingly intangible and shape it into accessible composition. If not for his convincing arguments on the validity and expanded range of sound that such genres contained, I wouldn’t have the deepened appreciation for an already-personally-revered auteur such as Brian Wilson that I currently hold. I also wouldn’t be championing the brilliant, eponymous work of A Winged Victory for the Sullen (http://www.awvfts.com/) which I’ve been doing wholeheartedly.
I can attribute this discovery to Lesley Rottsolk, whose articulate recommendation of Stars of the Lid’s And the Refinement of the Decline led me to the aforementioned record, through a few degrees of separation for good measure. I finally turned that recommendation into a transaction before a recent trip to California. Mid-flight, bathed in the mercurial glow of early morning daylight, the “personal cinema” (located between your eye and eyelid which alludes to the band’s namesake) truly came to life. Amorphous shapes of different colors arose out of B ambient wave of sound, ebbing and flowing from song to another. Following their own internal logic that is not bound by pop songwriting convention, Adam Wiltzie and Brian McBride completely obliterated the line between improvisation and composition in the most satisfying way; I took in the record from a new, detached place in which I wasn’t checking my current position track-wise on my iPod every 10 minutes. I came to understand that these moments of tonal pleasure had an existence before this record; the composers just tasked themselves with the responsibility of pulling them out of the ether, and composing them for our consumption. All of their work share this cognitive quality that Wiltzie also drew out of his collaboration with Dustin O’ Halloran on A Winged Victory, and it’s even more accessible to those who need to avoid words like “ambient” and “drone” at all costs.
Noted for his compositional work on piano (which will be featured in the much anticipated film Like Crazy), O’ Halloran brings a tangible weight that’s inherently cinematic – You feel like an observer following a thread between each note and chord tying the individual songs together. Using repetition as a narrative point of reference, they create an inherent memory that culminates into one cohesive work of art. Certain individuals may refer to works like this as “wallpaper music”, but I believe that misses the point entirely. Whether considering A Winged Victory as a whole, or in individual portions, each moment is absolutely heartbreaking and gorgeous. There’s a consistent tone that’s thoroughly met out and satisfied, emotionally and compositionally. You may not be familiar with O’ Halloran’s or Wiltzie’s work previous to this, but I honestly believe its best experienced with the advantage of the absence of expectation. I’m certain that you’ll be as immersed in it as I am… I’m still baffled every time the record ends; as I’m constantly fooled into thinking the current movement is just riding a pregnant pause to the next ascent.
How does an album like this translate to a live setting? I’m just as curious as you are, and we’ll find out Saturday, November 5th at 7:30, when A Winged Victory for the Sullen performs with the ACME String Ensemble at Off Broadway in 8 p.m. Benoit Pioulard (an artist who I’m very familiar with after seeking it out based on the raves he constantly received at my favorite neighborhood record store in Brooklyn, Soundfix), and Ken Camden are set perform also. See www.offbroadwaystl.com, or our Facebook page, for more details.