YlangYlang's New EP Deconstructs the 'Cycles & Decay' of Ambient Music
Published May 31, 2021Cycles and decay are everywhere in ambient music. As characteristic properties, they effectively speak to the minimalist, generative nature of the genre, conjuring images of overlapping tape loops and delay pedal interfaces. They are so normal place they're as disregarded as they are fawned over with delight — a dynamic Brian Eno himself dubbed "as ignorable as it is interesting" when codifying the genre.
Placing these implements front and centre in the title of her latest YlangYlang record, Cycles & Decay, Catherine Debard has something to say about the genre itself. Drifting in the new age pop wake of her 2020 offering Interplay, which also concerned itself with themes of interpersonal entanglement, this new EP is also a project in scrutinizing the unexpected outcome of dialectical existence.
Isolated at home, Debard attempted to re-grow leaves from the cores of vegetables and took note of the fungal activity that followed. Instead of discarding the projects, she continued observing the mutations. On a very basic level, the perceived decay was simply a causal reaction — an attempt to persist in a given set of shifted environmental conditions — and Debard connected its stimulation to psycho-social behaviour.
Debard also began applying the relational systems she was witnessing in nature to her compositions as a generational device, but she didn't really have to. The pandemic was providing its own case studies: reduced human activity meant the floors of the Venetian canals were clearing up, wildlife was suddenly presenting itself in abandoned parts of usually busy cities, and the immuno-compromised lives disproportionately represented amongst the climbing COVID-19 death toll were suddenly erased by eco-fascists declaring "nature is healing."
Debard traces early work on cassette loops that precipitated EP opener "Cedar St." back to 2019 when reports were coming in about the Amazon rainforest wildfires, but Cycles & Decay is as much a critique of those able to embrace those narratives as it is the conditions that inspire them; unprecedented conditions provoke radical reactions, and extended periods of 'stagnation' key you into red flags and patterns that were hidden in plain sight.
Weaving in contributions from Interplay contributors Evelyn Charlotte Joe (acoustic guitar, effects, upright bass, toy piano) and Connor Bennett (saxophone, effects) on "Penumbra" and "Green, Blue," extended sax notes accompany amorphous clouds of dark textural matter, acoustic guitar notes consumed by digital squelches nearly as fast as they're conjured into existence.
As the EP progresses, the dialectic sounds increasingly cooperative and social — even game-like, but there's a world of meaning in every interaction. The breadth and levels of these ideas could easily fill an album, but Debard's rippling EP delivers a more substantial and nuanced expression than most full-lengths do. (Everyday Ago)