“I’m never consciously trying to make a harsh song, or a dreamy song, or a noisy, disgusting song — it’s more a mood I want to translate.”
– Yves Tumor, in an interview with Dazed
On Serpent Music, his new album as Yves Tumor, Sean Bowie arrives at the personal at an angle. Rather than countenancing the self as a coherent, contained whole, Serpent Music posits it as a combination of discontinuous objects, styles, gestures, and moods — capacious and unbound, fleeting and fraught. More than previous album When Man Fails You, Serpent Music goes some way to agglomerate Bowie’s pseudonymous work as Bekelé Berhanu, Teams, and Silkbless (among others), while also adding new sounds and shapes to his oeuvre. The result is a diffuse, wraithlike work, whose treatment of the self as process engenders an experimental approach to genre and form, as well as a unique and engaging compositional sense. One is given the sense of being welcomed into an intimate sonic geography, a skein of textures and affects, lovingly molded by a restless creative spirit.
We enter this territory via a suite of compact soul compositions. Sculpted from bright guitar figures, creeping bass grooves, and spectral vocals, the album’s first three tracks saunter along with a melancholy gait, cut through by percussion that ranges from the serene to the trenchant. From there, the music disperses, enveloping kuduro-like polyrhythms (“Serpent I”); contemporary club constructions (the N-Prolenta-like “Broke In ft. Oxhy”); found sound (“Spirit in Prison”); and turgid, ambient pieces, which rest between Actress’s dilapidated structures (“Cherish”) and The Caretaker’s mournful compositions (“Serpent II”).
Despite bearing the traces of recognizable sonic forms (ambient, club, soul), Serpent Music’s pieces are never reducible to the singular, either formally or emotionally. This is gestural, multiplicitous music, one song always bearing the trace of another. Take “Face of A Demon,” a warm and nimble, quasi-hip-hop groove. In its layering of arpeggiated keys over curt loops, it comes to resemble the soul music of the first three tracks, pierced by the placid, offbeat ambience of album centerpiece “Seed.” It gambols along, incessant and insistent, a disembodied voice disrupting its leisurely mien. Like the album’s cover, then, Serpent Music is a study in disruption, in aggregated polarities — silk and quills, sharpness and obfuscation, beauty and pain.
Returning to “Seed” provides us with an indication of the album’s emotional and temporal topography. A hazy, loping drum beat is threaded through grainy ambient textures and shards of scraping noise. The song pulses, as elements move from background to foreground, a barely intelligible vocal vying for the listener’s attention before retreating. This layered approach to composition, in which each element impinges on the other, enables “Seed” to exist in a state of perpetual process. It elides concrescence in favor of a dreamy friction, one part encompassing another without engulfing it.
Through this repetitive unfolding, Serpent Music gestures toward a privation, a scintilla of pain just out of reach, which nevertheless must be approached, again and again. Like The Caretaker, Yves Tumor captures lost feelings and experiences through Freudian repetition, stitching successive moments together to form a mappable, navigable affective tableaux. One is confronted with time’s passage, its intertwining with the plane of experience, its demands on the body and the spirit. This interminable clamor is crystalized on final track “Perdition,” a churning, bleak number, the apotheosis of the album’s belief in music as passage. There is no catharsis to be found here, only a destination that can never be reached. The song rocks like a boat against a pier, before withdrawing, leaving only the wind to blow through its dusty remnants.
From warmth to desolation, Serpent Music exists in a state of constant flux. Its ceaseless momentum drives it forward, lightly anchored by shifting rhythms, textures, and affects. This is mood music, flecked with beauty and riven with hurt, a compelling, complex work that extends itself outwards, generously inviting the listener to share in its triumphs and disappointments.