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Albums of the Year: Yves Tumor - Serpent Music | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year: Yves Tumor - Serpent Music

Albums of the Year: Yves Tumor - Serpent Music

Among a diffuse movement of new black electronica, Yves Tumor shone out

It has an expensive sheen, a richly-layered musicianship, an all round elegance that make it uncannily easy to sit down with
Serpent Music: very strong magic

It's a cliché to say that interesting times make for interesting music – and frankly not much of a consolation. Good tunes don't really make the march of extremist, violent and delusional politics any more palatable – but 2016 really has been quite extraordinary, at least in the world of club and electronic music. Not that there were any huge definable genre geneses, in the sense that, say, drum'n'bass or grime once were.

Rather, there was endless international fluidity between and within the existing genres, and a further blurring over what was for the club and what was for home listening, what was avant-garde and what was just fun. And for some reason, this seemed to mean that the album, rather than just individual track downloads, was resurgent.

You're in a disconcerting space between threat and caress, psychedelic meltdown and total bliss

To name just a few, this led to: a psychedelic restatement of how odd electronica can be by Belfast producer Space Dimension Controller, a throwback to '70s cosmic synthesizer exploration by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith from the far northwestern corner of Washington State which still managed to sound utterly new, Bjarki from Reykjavík revisiting the tropes of '90s rave and techno yet again managing to sound filled with vigour and invention, south London dubstep godfather Mala interpolating the music of Peru, and airborne hip hop dreams from Estonian enigma Quarah.

But among all these one-offs, there was one thing that really did feel like a movement, even if it didn't have a single sound or rhythm to define it. This was the coming together of a loose-knit network of musicians from the African diaspora worldwide and some allies, utterly undermining what is expected of “black artists” as such: playing bold games with identity (racial, national, gender), weaving bleak noise and pop, hip hop and ambient, dancehall and glitched-out electronics, the hyper-politicised and the outright weird, all into thousands of different puzzling, tricksy, challenging, funny, fierce forms.

Yves TumorA connecting thread among this was the NON label, run by the Congolese Belgian-in-London Nkisi, Capetown's Angel Ho and Chino Amobi from Richmond, Virgina, who had a vivid year full of great releases and art. But linked to them spiritually and/or materially were the likes of Londoners Babyfather (formerly Dean Blunt of Hype Williams) and GAIKA, the weird and wonderful Awful Records hip hop collective from Atlanta, the Bolivian-American Elysia Crampton, and the Tennessee-born, now globally itinerant Yves Tumor (pictured left). While all these musicians made truly great music in 2016, it was Yves Tumor's second album, Serpent Music, made for the Berlin-based PAN label, that really got under the skin.

His 2015 When Man Fails You was often beautiful, but also sometimes scratchy and tentative – an experimental record in the truest sense. But Serpent Music takes several significant steps up in confidence and assurance: it's just as weird as When Man..., but it has an expensive sheen, a richly-layered musicianship, an all-round elegance that make it uncannily easy to sit down with. It's very cleverly structured: opening with a seduction in the forms of tracks that hint at the haunted Eighties soul memories that Blood Orange, Solange and Jessie Ware do so well, then taking you into deeper and darker places.

Even at the beginning strange noises hover around in the mix, but they get progressively stranger until suddenly you're in an electronic percussion ritual in “Serpent I” and “Serpent II”, then meandering through hissing hip hop, forest field recordings, queasy erotica, and other more unclassifiable sounds. Yet though it veers into the far left field, it retains the sense of luxury throughout: always you're in a disconcerting space between threat and caress, psychedelic meltdown and total bliss. It never shouts any questions or slogans at you, but thanks to its sonics it leaves you with important thoughts and doubts like a taste remembered on the tongue. It is very strong magic, perhaps of a sort that we really, really need in these trying times. 

Two More Essential Albums from 2016

Solange - A Seat at the Table

Paper Tiger - Blast Off

Gig of the Year

Autechre at the Royal Festival Hall

Track of the Year

Members of the House - "Summer Nites" (Kornél Kovács Remix) (listen to it overleaf)

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Average: 5 (1 vote)

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