Ydegirl‘s self-titled debut album is out via Escho.
Ydegirl‘s music is defined by its reluctance to be pinned down. The Copenhagen-based artist Andrea Novel has been using this moniker since 2019, putting out ambitious art-pop songs built like intricate weaves. Novel‘s music is born out of interlacing: the personal is intertwined with the historical; the mind with the body; the baroque instrumentation with her oblique pop melodies and modern production techniques. We recently spoke to her about Ydegirl‘s recently released debut album, the project’s origins and future, and her song-writing process.
As foreshadowed by its very name, this is a project that involves a brave reckoning with the past and the hidden. Yde Girl is the 2,000-year-old bog body of a teenager found and dug out in the Netherlands in the late 19th century. Further studies suggested that they were violently killed. Over the past 30 years, Yde Girl‘s body has been publicly paraded around the world, their wounds exposed for everyone to see and admire. It’s an unfortunately eloquent example of the often-macabre ways in which we deal with the past and with how pain is inflicted upon the body of the Other.
Novel‘s song-writing is informed by a visceral and combative reaction to these notions. Ydegirl works fundamentally by opposition, some of its sharpest lyrics cloaked under the tranquil picking of an acoustic guitar or expressed through instant earworms that belie the songs’ reliance on morbid imagery. Even a cursory listen will reveal that at the heart of this project lies a marriage of polar opposites; perhaps also a way to show that such opposition is merely an artificial construct. For a fitting example, just listen to the album’s catchiest song, a one-minute ditty with a lovely glowing melody. Its title? “You’re Dead Inside”.
There is a consistent technique behind this song-writing process. Novel writes the lyrics first and then accommodates the music to the images she comes up; she is the song-writer as much as she is the film composer: “When I sit down to write music, I’m creating a soundtrack for every scene I’ve come up with”. There is a sense of narrative to Ydegirl, but the scenes Novel manifests with her music don’t add up to a linear story. Instead, the general effect is impressionistic, a sequence of potent images interwoven into one another through the appearance of fragmented themes reoccurring throughout the album.
After speaking with Novel for a short while, all the pieces of the puzzle start falling into place. When asked about her singular amalgam of baroque instrumentation the melodic cadence of modern R&B, she expands on how her childhood love for classical and religious music grants her unique insight into the intricacies of melody and harmony. “I grew up listening to a lot of classical music and I used to practice my singing with hymns,” Novel recalls. “My taste ended up taking a different turn, but I think some of those elements have stayed”. The end result, perhaps best exemplified by standout single “Zodiac“, is an album of R&B hymns with a chamber pop influence, as if Jenny Hval had decided to make a TLC record. Ydegirl lets the frantic string vibrations of “Energy” stand in straight opposition to the harsh electronic sound of “Spiral Girl”, and succeeds at tossing flutes, guitars, and electronics into the pot to come up with the Björk-esque “Parody of Crime“.
For an album featuring a wide array of instruments, Ydegirl still has its share of breezy, almost minimalistic moments. With its palm-muted electric guitar and sparse arrangements, “Energy” is reminiscent of Frank Ocean‘s most direct work. Its backbone a few touches of guitar, the serene “Breezing back and forth between” offers fascinating insight into the creation of an artistic persona, with its speaker seesawing between highly specific references to Novel‘s and Yde Girl‘s lives: “Breezing back and forth between / Centuries in body / Emotionally in baroque / Body stuck in a peat-bog / Hands are coffed to notes19.” (notes19 was Ydegirl‘s first release back in 2019). It’s a prescient sample of Novel‘s web-like lyricism – an appealing tangle of fictional, historical, and personal lives that has been evolving throughout the years: “I used to just write in character when I started Ydegirl, but it didn’t take long for more personal stuff to creep in.”
One of the main themes in Ydegirl is the myriad forms in which trauma is expressed. Sometimes it comes to the surface through anger (“Stay out my dreams or I’ll make you / Stay out these streets or I’ll break you”, she sings in “Neversafe”, charging her voice with powerful emotion), other times it is expressed – or repressed – through silence, at which Novel already excels at manipulating. “To me”, she says, “silence can be an instrument”. It certainly is one in Ydegirl. Some of the songs on the album feature minimal instrumentation, and even its busiest moments come with plenty of breathing room. Ydegirl has drawn comparisons with Grouper, and for good reason: both Novel and Liz Harris create a sense of the eerie not only through the combination of analogue and electronic instruments but also through the absence of sound. Once again we find a point of suture between form and content in Ydegirl: silence, used to speak the unspeakable, is often more eloquent than sound (“I often speak but wanna be silent”, Novel sings in “Zodiac”).
Probably not a coincidence, then, that the album ends with the demo recording of a new song called “ways of saying things direct”. It’s a more intimate sound than any of the songs that come before it, a calm coda after the intense explosion of “Neversafe”, which ends the album proper. “ways of saying things direct” is already one of the best songs Novel‘s written, but she’s not quite done with it yet – in fact, she had been messing with a few ideas for it just a few days before our conversation.
This tinkering provides solid proof of the revisionist ethos behind Ydegirl. In a future release, Novel will be able to go back to “ways of saying things direct” and scribble new ideas over it, just like she has done now with Yde Girl‘s story and with her own life. What lies in the future for such a unique project? Ydegirl, Novel tells me, is “a solo project with a lot of people involved”. She has been co-writing with her band, which now includes a bass clarinet player, and is currently working on new material both on her own and collectively. As a fitting end to our conversation, Novel admits that she does have some future plans she is excited about, but that she can’t quite talk about them yet. We’ll be here for them, whatever form they end up taking.