Yves Tumor's Safe in the Hands of Love

post written by Sean Downey
in MusicAlbum Reviews

Yves Tumor is the creation of Sean Bowie - if that's his real name - started ~2013 as an experimental/industrial/electronic project. Throughout the project's early stages, Bowie focused his outputs on being ambient and noise instrumentals, sometimes including tape and field recordings to supplement looping tracks. Considering I didn't even discover Yves Tumor until 2018, I can't imagine how off-the-grid his early work would've been to most, or how to even remotely place a persona behind the music. Bowie described his direction for the project taking form behind his interest in noise experimentations in the electronic scene, and was in result of him wanting to also explore rather than being clearly purpose-driven. Ironically, with the release of Safe in the Hands of Love, Bowie has made himself the most artistically and dedicated figure in experimental music, and is at the vanguard of pushing the genre into new territories.

Somewhere following the release of Serpentmusic, Bowie saw his project as an opportunity to be a performance-driven platform, placing himself into the spotlight instead of hiding behind his sounds. What ocurred after this shift is purely mystifying, something we haven't seen since the OTHER you-know-who Bowie. Both Sean and David Bowie used characters to create a world behind the music, but while David used these characters as a mark of reinvention for his already huge pop-figure, Sean's characters further place you into bewilderment, completely submerging you into a world of deep and disturbing interpretation. Yves Tumor insists on being a mystery behind the music. You don't know the names of any of these characters he plays, what they specifically represent, or even the people and places he references in his music. Tumor is a project of abstraction, art that comments on our assumptions, and one that aims to defy anything that we've known before. And unlike experimental music of the past, Yves Tumor clearly has a driven, singular, artistic vision, and because of this is taking the genre into the future with Safe in the Hands of Love.

Safe in the Hands of Love is a landmark in modern experimental music. It creates its own world out of turmoil and confusion, and out of this the focal points in the album shine like no other. The album begins with Faith in Nothing Except in Salvation, a grand instrumental entrance with rippled horns and crashing percussion, something you'd hear as the entrance to a momentous classical composition. As the horns repeat over and over, anticipation is built further and further of what is going to come in this new narrative. It's the perfect introduction for this body of work, and for Tumor it is the indication that this is his first grand compositional statement as opposed to his earlier, more subtle work.

Following the opening track is Economy of Freedom, a more deranged (mostly) instrumental track that further makes you question what path Tumor is leading you down. Hisses and distorted impacts don't take any true form until the halfway point, where Tumor's faint yearns are finally introduced almost 4-and-a-half minutes into the album. Where is he leading us? We cannot tell as Tumor wishes to remain a hidden, private figure in this world he's beginning to paint.

Tumor continues this trend of privacy on his next track, Honesty. With each track thus far, Tumor is becoming more and more present among his songs, but he still wishes to be unseen. He laments a forbidden love, "But I can't be seen around you, is this you or your persona?" - he wishes to remain hidden from us. Heavy reverb haunts his voice while playing second role to the swishing house beat, and up until this point we are still trapped in a world of warped synths, unidentifiable sounds and treble-heavy beats.

But just as you start to question if Tumor will ever change the pace, he arrives more clearly and beautifully than he's ever been on the neo-disco track Noid. A crisp, powerful and FIRE drum beat soars over a light and airy string arrangement, starting us off with possibly the most lucid an Yves' Tumor song has ever been. Tumor comes right in without taking any steps backward, taking leads from perhaps past Brit Rock and other pop --"Sister Mother, Brother Father, have you looked outside? I'm scared for my life". Our protagonist is finally making himself the most definable piece in our experience, and in Noid he is certainly premeditated and full of angst from the brutality consuming our modern world in race relations and mass violence. But instead of keeping the track monochromatic, a dark synth creeps in, completely changing the tonality to now an inward, grim and haunting head-banger. "They call it a sickness, PTSD depression"--we cannot just label mass shooters as sick when they're taking countless lives, they hold a hatred that brings damage to far beyond the people they directly affect. In my opionion, this had been possibly the best and most present song of the year.

Album Cover
Fig1. - Safe in the Hands of Love cover by Collin Fletcher.

Tumor follows up Noid with a lamentation. Licking an Orchid is a steady and elegant come-down from the angst of Noid featuring back and forth guest vocals from James K creating a despairing dialogue between two lovers. It is a much needed breaking point from the dizzying arrangements we've been facing thus far.

But before long, we are entranced once again by relentless percussion on Lifetime. Symbols crash like waves and act as safe breaking points from the relentless drum fills, while Tumor chants about his personal history, yet in such an abstract and unattainable form. Even with him now in front of us, closer than ever, Yves Tumor is still holding someone's-and maybe his own-secrets for us to understand at a distance. While he belts the chorus like its Sunday Bloody Sunday, Tumor brings a much more gothic and mysterical aura to what else would be an arena rock anthem.

Safe in the Hands of Love sonically alone is a greatly moving and fully realized piece of experimental music, but in concept is a beautiful study on the growing pains of navigating your fear of the world and people around you.

The next two tracks Hope in Suffering and Recognizing the Enemy both transition us from privacy to complete invasion. Hope in Suffering is a strongly disturbing, dark poetic monologue Tumor recites, describing a morbid transformation that portray him as an overwhelming and overpowering force. At this point we have dipped into the lowest recesses of Tumor's inward battle, without much breathing room at all. Recognizing the Enemy acts as the aftermath of its predecessor, with guitars cleansing like rain, but soon after, hardcore-influenced drums break the calm and force us into a dying whim.

Tumor achieves his distance relationship with us not just through instrumentation, but also through his mixing. In All the Love We Have Now, pounding symbols are mixed to sound so close to us as to overwhelm our senses. The song transitions at the halfway point to a cool and collected beat that sounds straight from a Massive Attack piece, while Tumor is smoothly strutting his way out from the depths he brought us into. The closing track Let the Lioness in You Flow Freely is the only fitting way to close such an undefinable, genre-encompassing work of art. It utilizes Tumor's motif of crashing percussions, but in this instance for a relentless maximalist noise-rock piece. "I can be the one to hold you tight, I can be the one to give you peace of mind", these gratifying words feel more out of desperation than care here, as they fall more and more from the fringe. Tumor has expanded on all points of insecurity in his relationships with these words, going from hiding from us completely to wanting to give his listener no breathing room at all.

Much of experimental music's goals are to test the boundaries we define on our endless-count of genres, but with what Tumor and few others have done that's so invigorating is that he's used this art form to create and surprise in a way that's making a case and testament for modern music. Safe in the Hands of Love sonically alone is a greatly moving and fully realized piece of experimental music, but in concept is a beautiful study on the growing pains of navigating your fear of the world and people around you. Its one of my favorite albums in a long time because it both builds anticipation but more than delivers when the main act arrives, while maintaining important present themes Tumor as well as anybody now might be facing.