A Winged Victory for the Sullen

Iris [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack]

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Belgium- and Germany-based ambient duo A Winged Victory for the Sullen have established quite a name for themselves by crafting beautiful soundscapes composed of piano, strings, and ambience. Here they use this foundation of compositional knowledge and fill it in with tricks and surprises to create a brilliant film score for French drama/thriller Iris. The duo’s effective use of reverbs and filters works wonders here, transporting the listener through an array of the same kinds of sounds, but they're treated whole-heartedly and differently with each moment. An early highlight is "Retour au Champs de Mars." Beginning with rich, forlorn strings and creeping deep bass, the piece falls away steeply into bars of foreboding, synthesized bass that swell and engulf the mix, rising, falling, and stabbing against waves of cellos that occupy every other bar. "Fantasme" develops in a bizarre way with a robotic bassline cutting in and out, and soft brass and violins climbing over the top of it. It feels like it’s going to build to some kind of crescendo but never does; instead delivering bittersweet and warm harmonies that envelop the whole track before suddenly disappearing into the distance without warning. What could be seen as a problem throughout is the pattern of sustain on the strings that move in and out of focus -- which is, of course, beautiful -- but AWVFTS seem to know how to vary this kind of orchestral treatment every time it appears. The strings in "Gard du Nord, Pt. 1" co-exist alongside delayed marimbas and static-tinged electronica, delivering a kind of wonderfully neutral sense of either imminent peril or approaching solitude, while "Le Retour en Foret" begins with a twinkling ambience that gradually morphs into a tragic cacophony of sound with surging distortion bubbling beneath and a digital organ-like harmony that adorns the rest of it. Something that should be noted is that the score is pretty much entirely absent of any percussion (bar the use of highly compressed, punchy bass notes) that, quite honestly, is refreshing. Considering the frequent trend of bombastic drums and blasting bass in cinema, it’s nice to hear a soundtrack that is more concerned with evoking emotion and drama through the actual character of its sound, as opposed to the thundering, neo-classical palette that has become so hugely popular with the rise of the superhero trend at the box office. That said, the album’s final track, "Comme on a Dit," encapsulates this perfectly; closing out with a burgeoning, slow orchestra piece, this one builds and gets to a crescendo that was expected all along. Most notably, the track’s center point of lone piano notes that linger and resonate with rich reverb manages to say so much by saying very little.

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