BEST OF 2014: 29. A Winged Victory For The Sullen – Atomos

Modern-classical label Erased Tapes is reaching the point where any of its releases can be bought risk-free, safe in the knowledge that the music therein will be breathtakingly beautiful. Last year, I was more than a little taken with their celebratory 7″ box set, which offered a decent overview of their magical roster. Peter Broderick, Rival Consoles and the staggeringly splendid Nils Frahm are amongst their artists, with A Winged Victory For The Sullen proving to be suitably impressive colleagues. A partnership formed by Dustin O’Halloran, whose 2011 solo effort ‘Lumiere‘ is worth seeking out, and Stars Of The Lid‘s Brian McBride, they offered up their first, self-titled outing three years ago. It was a slight, but stirring set which only really grew in my affections in recent times. The early signs that the two artists had stepped it up a gear were present on the track they contributed to last year’s box, as well as April’s ‘Atomos VII’ teaser EP.

29 AWVFTS

Atomos‘, comprising eleven tracks simply titled ‘Atomos I-XII‘ with the curious omission of ‘Atomos IV‘, is a score for a dance piece by Wayne McGregor of the same name, more than sustains this reputation, building on the ambient duo’s debut and occupying a majestically sparse soundstage. I often struggle to truly capture modern classical music in words and, when reviewing albums like this, it’s one of the few times when I’m glad I only have 105 words to play with. This is music that seeps inside you and pulls you along with it. Give it the time and attention it so richly deserves and it will more than reward you with the kind of euphoric swells that only strings can truly offer. I’ve seen plenty of commenters responding to positive reviews of this record with accusations of banality, but when it comes to ambient modern classical music I think you either get it or you don’t. If some of Frahm’s calmer work has previously played free and loose with your emotions, then this will surely delight in similar fashion.

Think of the eye-poppingly tense moments in any given noirish Danish drama and ‘Atomos XII‘ will remind you of the accompanying soundtrack. Indeed, whether it’s the ambitious opener ‘Atomos I’, with its ten-minute trajectory divided into almost claustrophobically dense strings and then celestial synths, or the transcendent swell of ‘Atomos VIII’, this is a slow-burning, deeply resonant collection with a stirring potency and the capacity to truly wow.

BEST OF 2014: 30. Bombay Bicycle Club – So Long, See You Tomorrow

Two and a half years on from third outing, ‘A Different Kind Of Fix‘, Bombay Bicycle Club presented a record which built on the successes of its addictive predecessor and dazzled from the off. The wealth of riffs across its forty-five minute running time is quite remarkable, like an encyclopedia of popular music grew legs and formed a band. Evoking memories of My Bloody Valentine, The Sundays, James, The Beach Boys and plenty more, the whole thing whizzes past like a raucous carnival. Its incessant energy is wonderfully endearing without seeming unduly affected.

30 BBC

The robot-warfare-in-a-tumbledryer production deployed on ‘Feel‘ delivers a squelchy, whirling tornado of looped vocals and huge crescendos, while the delicate, lulling confessional ‘Eyes Off You‘ occupies a sparse soundscape not dissimilar to James Blake at his least annoying. This track, in particular, demonstrates how far this band have come from the chirpy but utterly insubstantial ‘A Different Kind Of Fix‘. The space around the song is all the more powerful for being in stark contrast to the whirlwind around it.

The sweeping electronica is present once again, with synth swirls and layered harmonies all over the place. ‘It’s Alright Now‘ skitters around with Jack Steadman’s tight-trousered yelp cooing away throughout, while long-time collaborator Lucy Rose lends vocals to several tracks. However, it is Blackpool singer-songwriter Rae Morris who guests on the rather magical ‘Luna‘, a track which ensures the second half of the album matches the impressive pace of the first. The plastic string sounds which jut in around the chorus cannot detract from the fabulously heady Middle Eastern melody that underpins the track.

BBC’s ambition was there for all to hear on their last record, but it is with ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow‘ that they have fully realised it. What could so nearly have been overbearing or desperate to be loved is in actual fact sincerely captivating and euphorically playful. It’s easy to forget albums from the turn of the year when compiling lists at its close, but songs these good live on long in the memory.