January, as you probably know, is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, looking both forward and back – although many versions seem to skip on the ears, which must be disappointing. As a consequence he may be all-seeing but is missing out on a good amount of music that would fit in with his interests – for example, INTERVALS, the debut album by Doug Stanford’s YNICORNS. Kicking off the year with a flourish, this ambient post-rock album was recorded between early 2014 and late 2016 and almost acts as an audio aide-mémoire for Stanford.
Although he doesn’t get into specifics too deeply – “the loss and recapturing of a personal identity” he says, which could mean any number of things – it’s clearly been an interesting few years for Doug. Understandably, he notes the birth of his son as one major moment and a couple of the tracks feature the little fellow burbling away happily, just on the cusp of talking and trying to work out what all these noises mean. Whatever turbulence has been going on in Stanford’s life, it isn’t always directly reflected in the music; we respond to life’s challenges in different ways and whilst some may have gone for the loud and aggressive response to release emotion, on a musical level at least, Stanford keeps its all fairly downbeat and introspective.
There is a quiet, understated quality throughout much of the album, with the layers of looping ambient guitars providing much of the texture and atmosphere. There are moments when he breaks out the post-rock guitar, a tight sequence of notes that would usually build and build but YNICORNS are clearly cut from a different cloth and on tracks like the opening “Ekki Enn Ljós” and “Easter” there’s no release – it’s a one man operation and there’s not much space for drums so there’s little lift-off. This avoidance of the obvious is actually very effective over the duration of the album, although if INTERVALS does suffer it is that a couple of the earlier pieces drift off and fail to grab the attention.
It’s possible that as INTERVALS was conceived as an album of memories, it is sequenced in a chronological manner, as the mood picks up in the final third. For “Lights”, the bass drum has been located and provides a driving pulse and the bells give an added percussive texture. The closing “You Will Never Be Alone” is the best realised piece here, with voices and waves filling out the layers of guitar. The ambient tracks that fit between have a more positive feel to them – and of course, there’s the guest appearances by Cillian. This isn’t the most immediate ambient post-rock album you will hear; it takes several listens for the sequence to sit together and, as mentioned, there are a couple of the earlier tracks which slow the momentum and could probably have been snipped out. But you can sense the heart and soul put into INTERVALS; how personal tumult has been directed into creativity. It’s a positive start to the year – and a quick check reveals that Cillian now has a baby sister and Doug Stanford has set his roots down in Florida. In this instance at least there is good news looking forward; let’s hope it continues. (Jeremy Bye)