A lot of the “is it or isn’t it” discussion that surrounds ambient music comes down to the matter of rhythm. The presumed background-ness of ambient music runs into a seeming — that is: a perceived, if not true — conflict with the presumed present-ness of more overly rhythmic music. (I go into this in some depth in my book on Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II. Extremely short version: even sine waves have rhythms, so the idea of the absence of rhythm in ambient music is somewhat moot.)
What gets lost along the way in that emphasis on rhythm is the potential conflict between melody and ambient-ness. Melodies have a rhythmic component, certainly, but there’s more to melody than rhythm. There is a sense of narrative, of development, and of transitions, among other facets, that collectively run in contrast with the sense that much ambient music aspires to the opposite, to something akin to stasis.
A track like “20180215” by Istanbul-based musician Gurur Gelen, working under the name Pullahs, manages, through its slow pace and it’s muted voicing to insinuate a melody, a genial if sad-toned one, with something of a Celtic lilt, into the mix of hazy synthesis and what may very well be processed birdsong. The melody is certainly hummable, and yet its extremely relaxed cadence and its circular quality keep it from becoming the sole focus of the listening experience.