A Winged Victory for the Sullen – The Undivided Five
- David Pollock
- 30 October 2019
Duo's concept record is a bold new work built on their foundations in ambient and neoclassical
The idea that such a thing as a supergroup may exist in the world of ambient electronica is an unexpected one; or certainly it has been until as far back as Brian Eno and David Byrne uniting on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts back in 1981. Yet while A Winged Victory for the Sullen – American producers Dustin O'Halloran and Adam Wiltzie – aren't anything like the foundational personalities which those pair proved to be, their combined CV can only be described as mighty.
Both have decades of previous experience in highly regarded groups, Wiltzie with ambient duo Stars of the Lid and O'Halloran with the atmospheric, Bella Union-released rock group Devics. Their individual film score work includes The Theory of Everything, Arrival (both Wiltzie, with the late Jóhann Jóhannsson), Marie Antoinette, Lion and the television series Transparent (the latter pair grabbed O'Halloran Academy Award and Golden Globe nominations and an Emmy win). Their last AWVFTS album proper was the self-titled 2011 debut, although their score for Wayne McGregor's 2014 dance piece Atmos was also released in the format.
All of which builds up a certain expectation for The Undivided Five, their Ninja Tune debut and a very loose concept record based upon the number five and the duo's shared admiration for the work of Claude Debussy. In a very 21st century take on the idea of composition, orchestral samples were recorded in Budapest, while the producers did most of the work individually in their Berlin and Brussels studios.
The results are anything but isolating; from the simple piano chords and the aching synthesiser strains of the ten-minute 'Our Lord Debussy', to the sedated violin lines of 'The Slow Descent Has Begun' and the slowly drawn-out movements of 'A Minor Fifth is Made of Phantoms', this is music which rewards patience with big sweeps of emotional power. 'Adios Florida' is the closest the record gets to an actual melody, while the sombre piano lines of 'Keep It Dark Deutschland' are the least electronically treated and most organic. This is neither music to pump the adrenaline nor plan a party to, but for those who can bear its reserve, it offers great depths of feeling.
Out Fri 1 Nov on Ninja Tune.