A Winged Victory For the Sullen’s 2011 self titled debut is my favourite ambient album, and easily the most beautiful instrumental release I’ve ever heard. So this year’s follow up Atomos was easily one of my most anticipated albums of the year. The great Atomos VII EP released earlier this year served as a teaser and could only heighten the anticipation and expectation. And now that’s it’s finally been released it lives up to the expectation, and with the introduction of electronic elements adding to the duo’s classical ambience the result is another breathtakingly release, oozing emotion and melancholy throughout.
The beauty of A Winged Victory For the Sullen’s music comes from the way the slow melodies evolve over the course of each piece. Minimalist but active and engrossing, each note is so precise and perfectly timed that it exudes complete emotion before dying away ephemerally before the next one comes to the fore with just as much impact. Each piano chord of I seems the realisation of the brooding melancholy at the heart of the piece, before the calm strings of II are slowly drawn out , before building into an all enveloping soundscape with a gorgeous intensity, then relapsing back into a calm reassuring warmth – a perfect piece for late night reflection.
The interplay between the piano and strings of III recall the atmosphere of the opener “We Played some Open Chords…” from their s/t debut, while the electronically processed keys of V start the piece, flowing seamlessly into a gauze of soft, lush strings and washes of droning guitar. VI has a dark chamber music feel to it with deep electronics pulsing between the string and piano, and the track ebbs and flows from calm to intense with a masterful use of dynamics. VIII’s use of bright electronics gives a rare joyous vibrant feel for the duo’s music, while the piano led IX invokes a feeling of pensive reflection in a great moody piece. VII though is the album’s real highlight, the the beautiful strings, electronic hum and gorgeous guitar washes combining beautifully into a vibrant climax, it’s an engaging and cinematic piece.
Each piece on Atomos is great as a standalone, but the album also flows seamlessly as a standalone in an hour of great music. It’s perhaps not as mind-blowing as the debut perhaps down to the expectation which wasn’t there for that, but it’s still one of the best ambient releases you’re likely to hear in 2014. The real victory of the duo’s music is the way it real resonates with you at an emotional level. Each note and soundscape is so well crafted and precise that it’s just filled with feeling, and these heartfelt instrumental pieces have a poetic sense to them rivalling the greatest lyricists. Simply stunning.