Yves Tumor: Serpent Charmer

When I first came across the name Yves Tumor, the latter half of which would unnerve even the sturdiest men upon hearing that prognosis at the doctor’s, I wondered what was behind this choice. Was it meant to provide shock value, to unsettle, or had it served simply as a prank of sorts, an attempt at playing those too quick to judge at their own game?

I then got a taste of the range of his work, which intrigued me enough to go foraging through articles about him that had sprung up online over two short years. With a penchant for dealing out ironic and curt replies, different publications could not agree as to what his birth name is – Sean Bowie or Rahel Ali. Added to the labyrinth were the slew of stage names Sean aka Rahel racked up that included Shanti, Teams, Bekelé Berhanu and Bodyguard, among others. Currently based in Turin, Italy (then again, Berlin was suggested by a more recent article), it took three years and four different cities to complete his signature LP Serpent Music. He enjoys an unorthodox performer-audience relationship, allowing their interactions to get uncomfortably tense and abrasive. From video footage of one of his live performances, he could be seen singing “I Love You” to the audience, but then in a menacing way.

So who the hell is Yves Tumor? Safe to say I came to the sobering conclusion that unraveling this paradox might be a futile endeavor. Best not to get too hung up on the semantics of it all.

For someone with a persona as elusive as Yves Tumor, his music begs even more to be in a league of its own. Each mood-shifting piece plays like a sonic collage that could, at various moments, fall anywhere between the genre spectrum of pop, soul, ambient, psychedelic rock or even noise. Embedded and scattered throughout the tracks are a mishmash of fragmented vocals, organic instrumentals, snippets of found sound and field recordings. An incredibly noisy production for sure, but the resulting sound yields an uncanny ability to straddle aesthetic extremes as those of pain and pleasure, ugliness and beauty, and of melancholy and warmth.

From what little Yves Tumor had been willing to divulge of his life, we know that he grew up in the Deep South in Knoxville, Tennessee, in a predominantly white community. Perhaps as a creative outlet from the tedium of his conservative surroundings, he started making music at 17, confining himself for lengthy periods in his room and experimenting with an assortment of musical instruments. He eventually left home at 20, from then on embarking on more or less a nomadic existence.

Around 2012 or ’13, while in Los Angeles, he met and formed a friendship with rapper and performance artist Mykki Blanco, with whom he would tour together for the next two and a half years, later making a significant contribution to a 2015 compilation by Mykki’s Dogfood Music Group label. That same year, he made his Yves Tumor debut with the self-released When Man Fails You.

It was Serpent Music, however, released to much critical acclaim the following year, that would thrust Yves Tumor into the consciousness of a wider audience. Close to Yves Tumor’s heart, the album was produced between Leipzig, Berlin, Los Angeles, and Miami and was three years in the making. It is a compilation of audio anecdotes about relationships, life and spirituality, with each atmospheric track playing out like a dream sequence, its ebbs and flows contributing to a dissonant quality that appears to mirror the state of constant flux in Yves Tumor’s life.

Not one to rest on his laurels, the unconventional musician followed up the success of Serpent Music by returning with a new album as recently as three months ago. Self-released and made up of mostly instrumentals, Yves Tumor once again interjected his unique brand of distorted beauty into Experiencing The Deposit Of Faith, detailing a biblical journey of sorts.

I was about to throw my hands up in the air and give up figuring out the man behind his multi-layered veils, but the persistence of my inquisitive mind may just get to prevail this time, for my eyes then happened to land on Yves Tumor’s response to an interview question by Pitchfork magazine earlier this year. Therein may lie the answer to my loaded question.

When asked what people should be hopeful about if the world was destined for doom, as Yves Tumor himself had earlier claimed, he had this to say:

"...If there is a meteor that’s going to destroy the earth, at least there’s the most beautiful sunset the world has ever seen right before it crushes us. Maybe my album is that sunset.”

Below, enjoy 4 carefully selected tracks and an album by our editor Lounes Doulache.

Yves Tumor – “Blood & Innocence” (2015)

The final track of his debut self-released album When Man Fails You appears to capture the scared ritual of childbirth. A foetus in its womb stays awaiting at life’s gate while its mother bargains for its entrance with all the fibre of her being. A minute becomes two… and three. An ambient heartfelt loop continues to play out in the track, when all of a sudden, five minutes in… an upbeat groove, signalling a newborn’s cry of innocence; and for the mum, a welcome relief to her excruciating ordeal.

Yves Tumor – “Limerence” (2015)

Another standout track from When Man Fails You arrives in the form of “Limerence”, its title instantly giving it away. This one speaks about the obsessiveness that comes along with a one-sided infatuation. One cannot help but hear the despair and loneliness of the monologue playing in the background. While the music starts out hopeful, it grows darker as stormy weather takes over.

Yves Tumor – “The Feeling When You Walk Away” (2016)

From his statement album Serpent Music, this relays the strength it takes to love someone in a destructive relationship. When the union finally breaks down, you are broken up into many pieces… yet for what it’s worth, this does come as a blessing in disguise, offering you a chance to remove yourself from the toxic circumstances; the opportunity for a fresh reboot. The bittersweet tears of heartbreak.

Yves Tumor – “Seed” (2016)

A seed, while having been furnished with all the ingredients necessary for life and growth…. for all its potential, for all it could become if all the conditions are met, it is still after all latent energy, trapped and muted in a perpetually inert state of being, until given the permission by Mother Nature to sprout and blossom. Hopefulness and Helplessness all but wrapped up in a mini shell. That’s “Seed” essentially. Also from the album Serpent Music.