Sean L. Bowie is an enigmatic figure of the experimental electronic scene, whose chameleonic transformations have resulted in a plethora of intriguing works. The producer has appeared under various monikers before emerging as Yves Tumor. His previous project Teams saw him start off from a chillwave and vaporwave perspective, which spread further to include elements of disco and deep house. Still restless regarding the sound of his project, he produced his sophomore record under the Teams moniker, Sierra City Centre (Diamond Club), focusing on a lo-fi rendition of abstracted synthpop. With the final Teams release, OneWorld, the producer again mutated his house, going back to deep house elements, but pushing further within an ambient space.
And then Yves Tumor came along, with Bowie taking a darker and more esoteric approach to experimental electronic music. His debut record When Man Fails You was a raw, but rewarding, introduction to the sound and ethos of the project, presenting an uncompromising and exploratory attitude from the producer. The sophomore record, released in 2016, found Yves Tumor presenting a more pristine version of Bowie’s vision, with the polished leftfield perspective and the experimental tendencies coming together to present surreal psychedelia. Still, the most crowning achievement of Bowie was yet to come, and it arrives in Yves Tumor third record, Safe in the Hands of Love, presenting a deeper, more personal work that displays an uncanny balance between experimentalism and mainstream tendencies.
Apart from being a producer, Bowie is a multi-instrumentalist and one that appears to be very well versed in the different contemporary music scenes. These influences have been part of the Teams and Yves Tumor sound, but it is in Safe in the Hands of Love where they really come together. The record features a plethora of different thematics, ranging from old-school R&B, jazz and even Motown influences. The start of the record with “Faith in Nothing Except in Salvation” reveals this perspective, as the lo-fi jazz sound slowly creeps in and introduces the record in a surreal fashion. These elements are spread throughout this work, with Bowie paying homage to the past, but at the same time managing to use them to bring a breath of fresh air to his dark brew of electronica. It is an aspect that even goes as far as to include rocky themes, as is the case with “Hope in Suffering” and “Lifetime”, both displaying an alternative rock influence.
Still, the foundations of experimental music run deep within the record, and there are times when they take over completely. “Economy of Freedom”, which features fellow stellar producer Croatian Amor, takes this notion to extremes as the noisy synths and minimal progression meet with the sound design aspect bringing the track to life through this array of disturbing atmospherics. “Hope in Suffering” is another instance of these tendencies, as the big spoken word parts spring from within the dystopian sonic collaging to craft the oppressive soundscapes. Even more extreme is the dissonant and excruciating end to this record, “Let the Lioness in You Flow Freely”, with Bowie presenting his distorted vision of dance music, through the use of warped synths and the backward progression fueled by repetitive motifs.
But, what puts the record over the top is the ability of Bowie to create an amalgamation of these different sides. “All the Love We Have Now” brilliantly summarizes the genre-bending style of Bowie, presenting a track that is based on a big, emotive shoegaze sound while retaining a disco-like progression. On the other extreme, Bowie forces the electronic progression of “Economy of Freedom” to merge with a soulful vocal delivery. Similarly, the producer lays down some hypnotic vocal lines on top of the groovy tempo of “Honesty”, retaining the leftfield element of his project but at the same time camouflaging it with a more direct and almost mainstream theme.
That is also where the record is set up perfectly. Without going to a completely mainstream area, Bowie produces some of the most stunning and hooky tracks of the year, in the likes of “Noid”. Through wavy synths, groovy drums, an imposing bassline, and a soulful delivery, while still being able to include bizarre rock themes, the track constantly balances between experimental and mainstream ideas. The ending of the track is particularly interesting, as the main theme carries on as a mantra while the background explodes through the distorted presence, which verges towards a free rock rendition, spawning disorienting sonic artifacts. With a more mellow tone, “Licking an Orchid” comes to the front, with its subtle progression and more minimal instrumentation produce a psychedelic twist. It is one of the more hazy moments of the record, brought over the top when the vocals of James K join in before Bowie erects a wall of sound to annihilate all the delicacy of the moment. Even more subtle is “Recognizing the Enemy”, presenting an interesting twist with its coupling of a folky tone with a militaristic percussion.
Bowie might have this recognition as an avant-garde and noise artist but in all of his works he has presented more influences and sounds than one could think possible. These ranged from the darkest corners of the underground to the brightest spotlight of old-school R&B. But, what pushes Safe in the Hands of Love beyond the producer’s previous works is the emotion that the record transmits. No matter if the synths are harsh, or the rhythm section arrives with the perfect groove, this is a work filled with an emotive purpose, and it is that core that makes it such a wonderful listen.