Captured Howls presents a journal of observations, a linguistic art piece… a blog on arts, music, and cinema

Doug Stanford Of Ynicorns Discusses The Gripping Ambient Of His Exploratory New LP

Ynicorns — a project of Florida musician Doug Stanford — captures a compelling portrait of exhaustive longing on the new ambiance-centered album we miss you, stay safe // &&&, which is available now from Post. Recordings.

Scroll down for a Q and A with Stanford about the new record! First, check out a review:

The lyric-less record depicts what sounds like a search for serendipity and security, and within the world of the record — which, in some respects, reflects our own world — that journey doesn’t end in triumph. A point of reliable and all-encompassing ease does not arrive. Instead, we miss you, stay safe // &&& seems to zero in upon the gnawing anxiety of uncertainty. Wondering what each new day might look like and whether those days will bring new chaos or more of the same uneasy waiting, and questioning whether any foothold of security might ever emerge amidst the fog — that’s where Ynicorns seems to settle in across we miss you, stay safe // &&&.

Although Stanford incorporates a vibrant array of poignant dynamic shifts and flourishes across this latest Ynicorns effort, the edifying music stays relatively driving, especially considering what one might expect from enriching ambient music in general. This subtle forward push, communicated by consistent pulses of atmosphere, makes the album feel especially urgent.

There is, though, an undertow of something like sadness. Fittingly enough, track five is called “undertow,” and that’s definitely the vibe here, like getting slowly pulled below by a rip current. Often, the music stays contemplatively paced, with quiet pangs of emotional unrest unfolding in the shifting and emotively unsteady haze, while the tones and textures themselves feel generally chilling.

From album opener “Blindsided” onward, Ynicorns sounds shivering, like the sonic equivalent of bracing storm winds, and the central perspective of the album somberly moves through this unsettling weather. Among other poignant highlights, the latter part of “Onism” features (among other elements) expansive surges of bass-heavy atmosphere that suggest a gritty sci-fi thriller, which lends an overlay of dissociative tumult to the album’s experience. Tones somewhat along those lines re-appear across “Refrain,” the record’s eighth track, which also features a steadily growing abrasive haze of gusty ambiance.

As the album’s title suggests, Stanford explores shock waves from the socially distant and societally upended year that was 2020 throughout we miss you, stay safe // &&&. The mixes are generally formidable, making the experience extra immersive — and inescapable, although Ynicorns song constructions seem starkly poignant rather than unwieldy, with the sharp emotion functioning like a guiding light through this ever-expanding haze. Stanford finds life amid the melee, but that life seems unwell, and the compelling impression lingers well beyond the album’s runtime.

Nab physical copies of we miss you, stay safe // &&& via Post. Recordings at this link.

Listen below!

Check out the full Q and A with Stanford below!

The Overall Journey

Captured Howls: Hello, and thanks for your time! The new record is quite compelling, and there are some rich dynamics in there. In the absence of any lyrics, how would you describe the journey, so to speak, that the album takes? What are some of the main points that it hits, in your perspective?

Doug Stanford: Thanks! This album is a bit of a departure from my previous work. It’s the first exclusively ambient record I’ve made, and it was written/recorded intensely over the course of the first few months of lockdown in early 2020. Overall the record is a document reflecting isolation, anxiety, and an increasingly volatile country. What began as a record that I thought would just be about how it feels to have a society living largely alone turned into a thing that really manifested the feelings of conflict, injustice, and instability that the civil rights protests brought to the forefront of our society.

 

Putting the Pieces Together

CH: On the note of the dynamic range — how did these songs tend to come together, in terms of the nuts and bolts of the construction of the instrumentals? What are some of the elements and performance techniques that make an appearance on the record?

DS: At the start of writing I completely disassembled my pedalboard and rearranged everything, I suddenly had a new palette of sonic textures available to me, and it brought an element I’d been chasing for years: unpredictability and generative texture/phrases.

My board has three independent/non-synced loop pedals at different points in the signal chain, and I reversed my old standard of putting distortion before reverb to having it come after. The results were amazing and broke me out of this rut of feeling like the things I would write were cold and lifeless… too safe and pristine.

This record is loud and unpredictable; lots of the notes I gave the mastering engineer (Sean Peterson/Pensacola Mastering) were about preserving this sound of old rusted ships breaking apart in the ocean that I was hearing. I recorded over 30 improv/writing sessions, rearranged each of them into workable songs, and then culled down the ones that I thought would hold up over time and fit on an LP.

 

CH: The title’s references to staying safe and missing someone make me think of the pandemic era that we’ve all lived through, in terms of the questioning of safety and the physical distance. Again considering the absence of any lyrics, what did you use as the sort of guiding inspirations for the album? Theme-wise, for instance, did you consider those real-world experiences when developing the songs?

DS: Very much so… when I started writing the album we didn’t know much about how to live safely day to day in the pandemic, so I lived extremely isolated. I didn’t see my kids for a month, I didn’t go to the store, I didn’t even interact with delivery people at my door. Towards the end of the first month I realized I hadn’t been outside of a mile radius of my apartment since it had all begun and that was a really weird feeling.

The writing became about exploring the new options on the pedalboard combined with pulling back on a lot of bad habits – rushing phrase development, putting in too many parts, not letting things breathe – it was an exercise in restraint that paralleled a lot of what life at the time was like.

 

CH: There are some definite moments of unrest on the album, in my perspective, but it’s not all overcast. Would you say that there is a level of catharsis or relief in the music? Is there a sunrise on the record — or is it more of a sunset?

DS: To me it’s a record that starts introspectively with glimmers of hope and descends from there, haha. There is no sunrise, just a storm that gets darker with each track.

 

Background for the Project

CH: What’s your musical background like? In other words — although Ynicorns certainly is not a new project, per se, what sorts of things drew you into these ambient composition styles in the first place? 

DS: I discovered post rock in college and played in a couple bands that really drew on Explosions in the Sky and the more twinkly cinematic style of the genre. I always had a deep love for Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and this is the first album where I feel like I’ve gotten into some of the territory of the interstitial moments on GY!BE records, the parts that are all texture between the orchestrated songs. Also, the way Jonsi creates texture in Sigur Rós, his solo work, and his work with Alex Somers was a big influence on how I re-ordered my pedals… there’s no sound on those records that feels anything less than alive. Things crackle and shape shift and sizzle in really surprising ways that I love and wanted to bring to my own music.

I used to live in rural Virginia where there isn’t as much of a music scene so finding shows to play was difficult… I got adopted by the noise music scene there, and it was a really great influence to expand my ideas about what music and performance can be. My 2018 album, INTERVALS, came out on Flag Day Recordings, who’ve continued to put out really mind blowing releases of experimental and noise music that influenced this album.

I also discovered the tapes released by Past Inside the Present, and I was heavily influenced by the modular ambient music I was buying. I tried to roll in a lot of those influences to make something that was less comfortably just post rock or just guitar ambient. I wanted to make something that was more than the sum of its influences.

 

CH: Have you found the seemingly solo facet of your songwriting challenging? Rewarding? Some of both?

DS: Both… I greatly miss playing with other musicians. Being solo is convenient; it lets me write and record on my own time between my professional work and parenting, so I can be productive. But, every time I sit down with another musician to play it’s just a million times more fun. I have two collaborative projects sort of simmering right now that I’m hoping will become something later this year, either under the YNICORNS name or something else, but everyone I work with is juggling the same set of responsibilities so finding time can be hard, haha.

 

CH: Finally, a lighter question I like to ask: what sorts of music have you been really connecting with lately? What’s been on your heavy rotation?

DS: Haha, I listen to a fairly eclectic selection most of the time, right now is no different. Algernon Cadwallader’s recent compilation of their non-LP material has gotten more play than anything in the last year… I’ve continued to put on a lot of Steve Reich, and John Adams who are sort of my ultimate sources of inspiration; you can trace a ton of music I’ve listened to over the years back to those guys.

I finally took a deep dive into Tim Hecker and have fallen in love with Ravedeath, 1972… and at long last I picked up American Football’s third LP a couple weeks ago, and it’s a really nice record I’ve had on repeat. I wasn’t too into their second LP so I was happy to hear them sounding more like themselves just grown up.