Wednesday, 21 December 2011
A Winged Victory For The Sullen
As anyone who reads my posts on here, I'm someone fascinated by context and association in music. The way that a certain song or album suddenly makes sense under a set of circumstances, often forming associations that may live with you for the rest of your life, provides an incredible insight into the interaction between sound and conscious.
As a result, I've absolutely adored The Guardian's 'My Favourite Album' series. Not once did they rest purely on academic dissection, but rather interweaved musical analysis with a glimpse into the associations they still have behind their album choice, almost a glimpse into their life at the time. It made for faultless reading. They nearly always fell into two categories: coming of age, or sad/major events in their lives, and as one writer put it when we discussed their piece the strongest associations come out of the saddest situations (in fact, my own nomination falls into that category, but remains shrouded in secrecy on the offchance someone spikes the drinks of either Mr Jonze or Mr Petridis over the holiday season and they come a-knocking. I appreciate this is pretty much guaranteed never to happen, but a man can dream.).
It's certainly true of my album of the year, A Winged Victory For The Sullen's self titled effort. I came back from this year's edition of Indietracks a broken and confused man, having experienced a bout of extreme exhaustion that had left me in my tent by 10:20pm on the Friday night, necessitated a 3 month rest period upon my return and left me unsure if I'd see my friends again before the year was out. Part of me would like to think it was totally unexpected, but looking back the signs were there in the week leading up to it. They must've been. My calendar shows that on top of my normal work I'd made 5 trips to Manchester in a month (including attending the penultimate edition of Pull Yourself Together and being awake for 32 out of 34 hours). Something would have to have given eventually.
Quite what possessed me to tackle a 14 mile walk halfway through the aforementioned 3 month self-imposed rest period remains a mystery - one of the legacies after arriving home from Indietracks was the 2 mile loop that gets trodden on (at least) thrice daily lay untouched. But as the miles got ticked off one by one, and the vast, widescreen soundscapes created by Dustin O' Halloran and Adam Wiltzie's masterpiece were matched only by the sundrenched shoreside vistas nearby the concerns that had blighted the weeks prior were suddenly no more. It was as glorious a feeling as the sounds that were permeating my ears.
The album itself is something of a curious beast. It's somehow escaped the Achilles heel that always seems to have afflicted other ambient albums; that feeling that the listener is being kept at arm's length from the sonic goings on – a sense of being allowed to hear the creations contained within instead of being in some way included. This is an album full of instrumentals which possess a surprising amount of warmth and emotion on top of a beauty verging on – and I know the use of this word is considered poor form, but I can't communicate it any other way – ethereal. At times (especially on Requiem For The Static King Pt. 2 and All Farewells Are Sudden) it feels quasi-cinematic, but never at any point does it feel as though it would work only in that sense. So inviting is the music, so easy is it to bask in, that it becomes the soundtrack to your own little film. You become the film. As an immersive listening experience it's almost impossible to fault.
I've also found that it has this innate ability to extract beauty from surroundings and situations. Views that I've seen countless times a day and become indifferent to suddenly make their qualities known again. Looking back, pretty much every occasion I've listened to the album while having access to scenery has been a special experience – be it the sunset over the endless fields of Southern England while on a train to London in November (which fittingly marked my return to travelling and exploring), or the surreal and odd experience of wandering through the maze of Sheffield's vast Park Hill estate on a bitterly cold December afternoon with the winter sun fading over the city. I can honestly think of no other record in my collection which has created so many potentially indelible associations between sound and vision.
The fact of the matter is, however, that no matter how hard I try I'll never be able to accurately sum up why I love the record, or how much I do. The inexorable links it's formed in the short time it's been in my life have become too complex and too personal to properly document. Why waste time elaborating any further on mine when you could be somewhere forming your own? What I do know is that these associations are merely garnish on a sumptuous and rich musical platter that the record has brought to the party solely on its own merits. If you find yourself at a loose end over the festive period, get yourself a copy, head off for a winter wander and see where the record takes you. I'm willing to wager you won't regret it.