When I was at college we went on a trip to Paris. Before we left one of our lectures told that that the best thing to do in a new city was meander at will and to get lost. He was right. As we flaneured about, avoiding tourist spots, we found a new appreciation for the city. It might have been unfamiliar to us, but we understood its dynamics. This feeling comes across when listening to the ‘Invisible Cities’ by A Winged Victory For The Sullen.
The album is a collaboration with Leo Warner’s theatre production with is based on Italo Calvino’s classic novel Invisible Cities. The book is a series of conversations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Khan is asking Polo about cities in his ever-expanding empire that has, and will, never see. Polo’s responses are in the form of prose poetry and act as parables to life and human nature. It’s a rich read, which allows the music to be so varied and compelling. The show mixed theatre, music, dance, architectural design, and stunning visuals to bring to life the conversations in the book.
‘So That The City Can Begin To Exist’ kicks things off with a delicate piano refrain and synths that create gentle maelstroms. It embraces us with open arms, hinting at the sonic beauty we are about to experience whilst dousing us with dazzling melodies. The standout moment on the album takes place during ‘There Is One Of Which You Never Speak’. After opening with an embracing swell of strings and tender piano, an undercurrent of subtle electronics starts to become, well, less subtle. As ‘There Is One Of Which You Never Speak’ progresses these electronics are more pronounced when, during the final third, they become this fidgeting wall of static noise. What is remarkable is that you can still hear the graceful stings poking through the electronic cacophony. Even when the glitching noise is at its height, ‘There is One of Which You Never Speak’ still feels comfortable and embracing.
The album closes with ‘Total Perspective Vortex’. The title is a reference to a joke in the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. The vortex is a machine that has the ability to show anyone in it the infinity of creation and how insignificant you are in relation to it. Opening with billowing electronics, the sound grows from the speakers until it encompasses you. Then the mood changes. Everything gets more abrasive. This is the moment when you realise that you are an insignificant dot in the backwaters of the cosmos. The music rises up a notch. The swell is almost deafening, then it drops off and you are back where you were. Sitting in a room, bus, park bench, office listening to a totally captivating piece of music that is part of a totally captivating body of music.
‘Invisible Cities’ is a beguiling album that is as rich as it’s subject matter. A Winged Victory For The Sullen designed 13 piece of music that are architecturally sound but tap in directly, and build from, their enchanting debut album. This is an album where being a musical flaneur is possible. So, get comfortable and get lost in this dense, but strangely translucent world.
Words: Nick Roseblade
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