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A Winged Victory For The Sullen
Iris Tristan Bath , January 25th, 2017 10:04

It seems only logical that the duo of Adam Wiltzie and Dustin O’Halloran should tackle a movie score. If nothing else, it’s been Dustin O’Halloran’s bread and butter for a good few years now, with the pianist even making the transition to TV to give Transparent its perfectly nostalgic theme song. Wiltzie too has soundtracked a smattering of indie flicks and docs, and considering the duo’s second album was a score composed for a Wayne McGregor directed dance performance, the duo making a film soundtrack together was only a matter of time. So the frigidity of the flawed Iris score is most likely down to one of two things - the less-than-compelling assignment of soundtracking a run-of-the-mill French thriller, or the actual choice to release the thing as a de facto third Winged Victory album.

The film itself is a mish mash of pre-existing material. The Hitchcockian plot is a remake of Chaos, a relatively obscure Japanese thriller by Ringu director Hideo Nakata. The sheened finish, Ikea showroom sets, and uncannily attractive and impeccably tailored cast are all presented in faded shades of teal and grey, owing more than a little to countless millennial noir outings in TV and Film. The likes of Sky Atlantic’s The Last Panthers series starring Samantha Morton, John Hurt, and Tahar Rahim spring to mind - although that show saw Warp Records’ Chris Clark use the assignment as a springboard for a psychedelic variety of moods and instrumentation (not to mention the theme of the series was Bowie’s Blackstar). Perhaps the longer running time of a TV series simply provides a larger canvas for trial-and-error.

Recorded in Budapest with a 40-piece string orchestra in tow, the Iris soundtrack feels far too paint-by-numbers, gathering yearning strings to ebb and flow atop xeroxed prairies of arpeggiating synths. It’s muzak for gritty thrillers, maintaining a thin soup of emotion with enough colour to paint the background without muddying the foreground. In that respect, this music is to be fair, most likely doing its job. I’ve not taken the time to sit through the film for this review (firstly, this is an album not a film review, and secondly I can see it’s just not for me, somebody who’d rather watch Stroszek spiral downward towards suicide for the umpteenth time than watch sexy rich Parisians scheme, collude, and copulate), but one can imagine this working supremely well in context. It’s why the likes of Jóhann Jóhannsson get more full movie score commissions than your average actor gets roles - this ability to convey mood without taking over the screen. Perhaps resultantly though, it does not therefore make listening to even Jóhannsson’s scores for Denis Villeneuve’s Prisoners or James Marsh’s The Theory Of Everything entirely fulfilling experiences unto themselves.

All that having been said, there are a few moments in the Iris score worth taking in. ‘Le retour en forêt’ for one is an especially well executed action sequence riding synth rhythms, while ‘L’embauche’ has some compellingly dreamy wafts of keyboard textures adding a mighty heft to the track akin to Wiltzie’s legendary other ambient band, Stars Of The Lid.

The for-the-most part absence of Dustin O’Halloran’s piano is thoroughly missed. It anchored both Winged Victory’s eponymous debut and Atomos, but is only really present here on closing track ‘Comme on a dit’ and ‘Galerie’, the latter of which is incidentally the highlight from the entire score, recalling the snowdrifts of unabashed emotion on early (meaning ‘good’) Sigur Rós, and with only distant hints of that vast string section. The score then returns to indiscernible lashings of emotive string notes as the tracks bleed into each other blandly, one expecting Bill Pullman to pipe up and implore us all to celebrate our independence day.

It’s difficult to be too critical though, as the album method of delivery is not at all what this music was meant for. It was designed as a sonic bed (for what admittedly sounds like a pretty run-of-the mill French thriller), a function at which it may well massively excel. It’s just a disappointment to see A Winged Victory For The Sullen churn out something quite so drab, especially considering the album for Atomos also worked so amazingly out of the context of the dance performance it was originally written for. If nothing else it just had more memorable motifs, more variety of sounds, and to be blunt, more heart. Perhaps also worth considering, the duo probably made more money off this score than the two previous albums combined and then some - if I were them however, I wouldn’t have necessarily made it ‘canon’.