Safe arrives after a long line of adventurous EPs—all grounded in grime, but playing fast and loose with the rules. 2013 was Carnell's breakout year, helmed by a classic three-tracker for Leisure System, Snakes, his take on techno for Ramp, M / Secrets, and the poignant I'm Fine for Lit City Trax. In some ways, the latter record laid the groundwork for Safe, as it pushed the South Londoner's trademarks—breathy, stonewashed vocals and keys—to frigid new heights. It also marked a drift further into the unknown by a producer already on the outskirts of familiar bass music.
Carnell has left worldly hangups behind him on Safe, boldly casting off into the void with just the bare essentials. Traces of grime and footwork are everywhere, but they're decomposed to the point that those terms no longer apply. Safe has evolved well beyond identifiable bass nodes in favour of a hyper-digital frontier ruled by Artificial Intelligence and sentient devices. It's this conflict between man and machine that lies at the heart of the album, a sci-fi conceit played out through Carnell's complex vocal engineering. The human voice—vital to any Visionist record—takes on a decisive role: it's the main instrument, the main sound throughout. Whether in lush choral form or steeped in reverb and lurking in the background, Carnell's voice manipulations blur the lines between humanity and artificiality in dense, highly fabricated melodies.
Safe is an incongruous blend of calm and anxiety. It's also full of raw human emotion—the residue of all those displaced voices like wailing souls left behind. From the album's opening gambit, strangled, helium-pitched cries make it clear Safe won't be an easy ride. Next, "Victim" recalls Autechre outside of the vaporous moans, chimes and swirling clouds that thicken as the album surges on. They break up over "Vffected," Safe's most identifiably grime track, but the effect is still wraith-like.
Leading up to "Too Careful To Care," Safe ceaselessly queried and redressed itself, like a computer running through software checks. This track, however, collapses into binary blips and beeps, processed squeaks and prattling. It's a bleak end of the line picture, and in the closing half gives over to what sounds like a High Contrast sample winding itself down for the last time. The three closing tracks are as serene as Safe gets, yet never offer much comfort. "Sleep Luxury" is haunted, full of jarring strings and alien choirs. By the end, it feels strung out and restless, racked with more questions than answers.