What does one see when one looks at an old family photograph? Does one see what is pictured, what one remembers, or what one imagines? The truth is likely a blend of all three. When Maria Papadomanolaki found a collection of notebooks, clippings and photos in her grandfather’s desk, she felt a rush of memories that might or might not have been true. Ancestors reflects the sensation of being thrown back into childhood, arms and legs akimbo, tumbling down a hill to find one’s parents and grandparents at the bottom, young again, laughing at the joy of the day. This may not be exactly what happened, but it’s as accurate as we want it to be. Peace in your mind, sings Izumi Suzuki on the title track. Peace in your soul. And singing seems to make it so.
The original version of “Ancestors” is ephemeral, fluid, and light. Piano notes fall like pregnant droplets from the mist. It behaves as politely as a dinner guest, content to mingle with the other original tracks. But then a trio of remixers enters like the magi. Dryft and Northcape bring the frankincense and myrrh, but bvdub brings the gold. The artist’s 14-minute re-imagining pumps the strings into the stratosphere while adding an ethereal male vocal. By reaching to the heavens, this track honors those who have gone before. A synthesized wave implies the safety of another shore. When five minutes remain, the wave recedes to make room for the simplicity of the piano, gently returning the listener to the present tense. Dryft and Northcape’s restrained beatscapes add a new dimension to the song, competing more on the physical level than the emotional.
The other originals are all instrumentals. The best of these, “Flood” and “That Was Now”, verge on modern composition, featuring prominent cello and violin. At 1:34, “Flood” leaves one wanting more (how about it, bvdub?), but “That Was Now” is just right. An ambient beginning gives way to a soft contemplative center, but just as one is getting settled, an insistent breeze blows in a series of dissonant notes, muttering as if they had been rudely awakened. All is settled in the final ninety seconds: feelings are smoothed, the notes are assuaged.
“That Was Now” is the center of the EP if one counts the mixes, but the finale if one does not. The most grounded of the EP’s tracks, it provides a fine link to Dalot’s other new work, a split single with label owner Gavin Miller (Ghosting Season, worriedaboutsatan). This solid pairing was inspired by each artist’s recent hospitalization. Dalot uses a sampling of her heart monitor to set the tempo of “Lumen”, adding subtle nuances to the beat to imitate a friendly soundscape – not quite what one encounters in a typical stay, but like the old photographs, an idealized and more palpable version. The closing minutes offer a touch of arrhythmia, tempering the pleasant feelings conjured by the beat.
Miller’s side of Wards, titled “Ichor”, splits the difference between his last two singles, the structured ambience of “Fotograf” and the synthesized electronics of “Instruktion”. A looped beginning echoes Dalot’s approach through the comfort of machines. As the track progresses, additional percussive elements are mixed into the batter until it is nearly – but not quite – a techno piece. As the beats give way to guitar and strings, they expose patterns that have been there all along, like new skin rising to the surface. In its opening minutes, the track sounds like a splinted bird, but by the end it stretches its wings and flies through the open window, just in time to rejoin the flock. Together, the tracks find inspiration in illness, or at least in spite of illness ~ a laudable approach, no matter which is true. (Richard Allen)
Ancestors release date: 15 October (Wards is out now)
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