Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections: Feels Like Being Gone

Ancestors Suspended in Reflections

Ancestors have never worked to expectation. The Los Angeles unit were last heard from with 2012’s In Dreams and Time (review here), which I absolutely consider one of the best albums of this decade, and that arrived following 2011’s Invisible White EP (review here), 2009’s Of Sound Mind (review here) and 2008’s demo-turned-debut-album, Neptune with Fire (discussed here). Through each release, the band have pushed themselves further along a progressive and individualized path, and while their first outing seemed to be a clarion of post-Sleep riffing, calling across its epic tracks to the converted, “Come here and nod out,” they’ve never really been that kind of band and show little interest in it now. Their new album, Suspended in Reflections, finds them signed to Pelagic Records, run by Robin Staps of The Ocean, and even that endorsement signals how much they’ve grown beyond where they started out a decade ago.

That’s not to say Ancestors can’t still roll out a heavy groove when it suits them — it’s pretty much the first thing they do on Suspended in Reflections, while also providing a landmark hook in opener “Gone” that bleeds into second track “Through a Window” as well — just that their doing so is one weapon in a crowded arsenal of melody, space, ambience, heft and craft. About half an hour shorter than its predecessor, the album comprises six tracks for a 36-minute LP with three cuts each on two sides, each of those ending with its longest song, “Lying in the Grass” (7:37) on side A and “The Warm Glow” (8:31) on side B. Anyone who heard In Dreams and Time closer “First Light” (discussed here) can tell you Ancestors have a thing for a big finale, and guitarist/vocalist Justin Maranga, bassist Jason Watkins and drummer Daniel Pouliot continue that thread here, though even those two tracks — and it is both, make no mistake — have to be considered stripped down in relation last time out. Ancestors‘ sound is lush and immersive and patient and gorgeous and any number of other things, but it’s not raw, and that applies here too, but in their structure and execution, the tracks on Suspended in Reflections feel more about expression than ambition.

Of course, the paring down of grandiosity is no simple thing in any context and an ambition unto itself, but it makes Ancestors‘ communication more efficient here. “Gone” starts out with a melancholy verse with layers of backing vocals, organ and patient guitar notes over a weighted groove en route to its chorus, which sets a defining impression in its discussion of death: “And it feels like being gone/And it feels like moving on/And it feels like nothing’s wrong anymore.” Again, those lines will reappear in “Through a Window,” which follows, giving a sense of overarching composition to the proceedings — Ancestors writing a full album as opposed to a collection of songs or parts — and with the organ playing such a prominent role throughout, the material ties together even further. A sweeping guitar chord transitions “Gone” into “Through a Window” and the first half of the track builds back up to that reappearance, so crucial as it is. Much of the second half of the track is given to softer contemplation, Maranga‘s guitar and the organ setting a melodic foundation in accordance with the easy flow in the drums and bass, an instrumental stretch it’s easy to lose oneself within that caps with cymbal washes and a fading guitar that leaves a bed of silence to start the quiet beginning of “Lying in the Grass.”

ancestors

What seems to be a vocoder bolsters the ethereal atmosphere so pervasive thus far, and clearer vocals emerge as the build in the first half moves into its next stage, the slowness coming to a full tone and crash that underscores the beauty of what the band is creating while staying on theme in terms of the interplay of guitar and organ, dropping back to a subdued state in the second half à la “Through a Window” just before in order to build up again instrumentally as it passes the six-minute mark, again pulling back to finish quiet with soft vocals and a final crash that leaves the organ tone on a fade to let the sudden start — unless you’re listening on an actual LP, in which case, it’s only sudden after you’ve gotten up to flip the record — of side B opener “Into the Fall” make its entrance. Already, Ancestors have typified Suspended in Reflections with a depth of mix that seems to be even more than the sum of its instruments and set a range for themselves that’s nothing short of encompassing. The second half of the album reaffirms this and builds on it with a linearity of its own, furthering the full-album impression of side A while remaining distinct from it.

That’s not to say there’s some great leap in sound away from what the first three tracks are doing, just that as “Into the Fall” takes a heavy post-rock epic and trims it down to an efficient five minutes, the vibe seems to shift. The introduction of strings to the mix could have something to do with that, but the wash of distortion that takes hold at the 3:20 mark remains in line with what Suspended in Reflections has thus far brought to bear, and its way of capping with residual guitar resonance on a fade directly into the piano notes, guitar ambience and synth swells of “Release” speaks directly at how “Gone” gave way to “Through a Window” earlier. The synth comes to a head and cuts out, leaving dream-jazz piano to hold sway and set the mood for the second half of the four-minute instrumental, which carries some of the foreboding that one found in Invisible White while also setting up the turn into “The Warm Glow,” which begins its soar after a quiet first minute and surges forward on a slow-moving wave of low distortion cut through by shouted vocals in a post-metallic tradition.

It’s not an assault by any means, but it is arguably the most outwardly heavy payoff on Suspended in Reflections and obviously placed accordingly as the finale. True to form, it caps not with a grand overstatement, but with a quiet exploration, the band feeling their way to the album’s finish in naturalist form. Those moments, far from extras or tack-ons, are essential to the impression of Suspended in Reflections in its entirety, no less so than its heavier moments, as they help to cast the full breadth of the material and to situate Ancestors in each stretch and in each place within their considerable range. They are, in effect, the product of that range, the result of it and a contributing factor to it. One might think of Suspended in Reflections as digging to the roots of what In Dreams and Time was. It accomplishes many of the same aesthetic feats in just about half the time, and it retains a memorable songwriting element that ties it not only to the LP immediately before, but to the band’s work all along. Some of this material may have had its origins years ago, but it is unmistakably another step forward in Ancestors ongoing creative progression.

Ancestors, “Gone” official video

Ancestors, Suspended in Reflections (2018)

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