, October 12th, 2016 12:04
Referring to himself as a 'social butterfly', in a conversation with Dazed, Yves Tumor is an artist fully comfortable with adaption. The musician - originally stemming from Tennessee - left home at 20 and has avoided stagnation ever since.
The restless artist has a history of travelling; be it through location, genre or label. His latest - Serpent Music - was Recorded between Miami, Leipzig, Los Angeles and Berlin. Writers tend to focus rather heavily on location, perhaps the easiest way to try and understand an artist through context: every Manchester band, after all, must be seen through the angle of post-industrial gloom. When there's no fixed location to rely on, however, it becomes a somewhat more difficult task.
When speaking of his original Tennessee upbringing, Yves recalls the "conservative, racist, homophobic, sexist environment" he became adjusted to. The people he encountered not exactly being known for their transparency, "They’re all very sweet, everyone’s kind to your face, but they’ll talk shit about you as soon as you walk away."
Since evading these confines, geographical flux has - rather than working against - somewhat become the context for his music. The disparate group of artists around which Yves manoeuvres are connectable only through their singularity: the pioneering androgynous rapper Mykki Blanco, Hippos In Tanks' Barron Machat, and Non's Chino Amobi to name but a few.
Releasing Serpent Music through Pan - the Berlin-based label home to Helm and M.E.S.H - the album encompasses the label's tendency for putting out audacious electronic and experimental music. Though Pan offers a logical home, Serpent Music still makes no conscious attempt to situate itself easily amongst the label's usual roster. For one thing, there are guitars - at moments shrouded in feedback, at others clear and upfront, and in the case of the beautiful 'Dajjal', turning impressive feedback acrobatics — the bracing screech momentarily staggering, then collapsing to a compellingly impotent flail.
Juxtaposition appears to be the album's defining characteristic, merging ideas which would logically seem incompatible - grating noise one minute, blissed-out digital soul the next. At one stage the album was supposedly conceived as a soul record, and the end result shares more common ground with that intention then you may initially suspect. As with classic soul records, divine themes are often made interchangeable with issues of personal relationships and emotional turmoil: in particular, 'Spirit in Prison' and 'Perdition' present Yves as tormented and adrift. For someone constantly travelling, these themes of identity and purpose still seem inescapable.
Toying with emotional themes of isolationism, loss and spirituality as opposed to fixed religious views, the album manages to somehow balance direct emotion with the indefinable and opaque. Serpent Music, remarkably, is never wilfully vague - or at least not strictly dedicated to the process of obscuring. The art of obscuring, though, is undeniably present throughout. 'Seed' hides an already submerged melody through writhing white noise and static, whilst the vocals throughout the album are often muttered, yelped or drowned out through dense layers of post-production.
If most music is intent on reasserting the listener's own way of life, then for Yves it further represents an unfixed identity. This isn't just restricted to lyrical content - which for the most part is unintelligible - but to the actual structures and connotations of the music itself: the information surrounding the release, ranging from the influences to collaborators, will offer little help in attempts to decode or understand via context. The connections further blur the picture, rather than providing anything close to a concrete answer.
Sonically the record's two distinct junctures are 'Spirit in Prison' and 'Perdition'. These mirroring tracks open with extensive explorations into the world of field recordings - experiments which seamlessly merge with the accompanying instrumentation. Though the more traditionally musical elements enter significantly into the duration of both pieces, the sounds of wind and water in motion are allowed to be brought to the forefront.
The album closes with the sound of panting and rowing over a throbbing electronic backdrop, starkly contrasting with serene opener 'Devout', the only constant a bloody minded and restless creative spirit. However, this restless spirit does not come without its potential set-backs: creatively, the inability to sit still offers up a frenzied exploration, which - though thrilling to experience - also has the potential for ideas not being followed through to their rightful conclusion. In the case of Serpent Music, its magpie aesthetic can leave certain areas feeling improperly unearthed. This instinctual approach could have resulted in an uneven work, but works far more often than not.