Album Review: Yves Tumor - 'Heaven To A Tortured Mind'
Owen talks us through the intriguing latest project from the experimental psych-rock-pop outfit Yves Tumour.
Yves Tumor burst onto the scene in 2018 with a truly bold and revolutionary sound that encapsulated all the sonic and creative idiosyncrasies they picked up as a fledgling experimental noise/ambient artist in an artpop sound that remains in 2020 both completely singular and singularly compelling.
Initial singles like Noid and Licking An Orchid place front and centre Tumour’s alluring hypnagogic production style and compact earworms, invariably cannibalized from the strangest of stylistic and practical sources. There’s the disorienting, cycling and ultimately thrilling string sample on Noid, then the bizarre, classical guitar dirge on Licking An Orchid –which I can only compare to someone playing the saddest conceivable rendition of Classical Gas while sinking into a swamp.
Tumour displays a startling knack for pulling genuine feeling from these disparate sources in a way a filmmaker like David Lynch might utilize unconventional and seemingly unrelated imagery to prey on the audience’s subconscious and summon forth unexpected emotions. A good Yves Tumour song is less a song and more a liminal space in which emotions are allowed to subsist in their rawest and bloodiest forms so they can be properly examined and deconstructed, and more importantly so that they may best be admired in all their terrible primal majesty.
Tumour’s new record, Heaven For a Tortured Mind, might then undermine this musical design philosophy in concept at least. It sees Tumour treading closer and closer to accessibility and conventionality, this time positing him as a Bowie-esqe modern perversion of the rock star archetype: the kind of lightning-in-a-bottle dynamo character that can enchant an audience by mere prescience and inspire deep and loyal fandom in their listeners. Yet it works. It works for multiple reasons.
'A good Yves Tumour song is less a song and more a liminal space in which emotions are allowed to subsist in their rawest and bloodiest forms so they can be properly examined and deconstructed'.
First and foremost; Tumour simply is that kind of character. When first approaching his work in 2018, what stood out to me first – before even the killer sonic textures and barmy production – was Tumour’s voice. It’s a peculiar but completely affecting instrument in its own right, equal parts desperate squawk and rich croon. Their ability to light up even the more drab tracks on that album with a theatricality that surprisingly manages to remain genuine and provocative is a testament to their skills as both a lyricist and performer. Each syllable uttered by Tumour seems to bloom instantaneously like lush spring blossom then shrivel into grey ash just as fast, and the effect remains equally stunning throughout.
The second is that the songs are just really, really good. Over the course of the album, Tumour is able to maintain the sonic variety they’re known for while simultaneously balancing slinky, sexy mid-tempo rock jams with more abrasive and experimental cuts. They also apply their aforementioned liminal catharsis to songs in these new styles with both grace and finesse, despite their contradictory tones.
Nowhere else is this more plainly displayed then with the opening two tracks: lead single Gospel for a New Century and follow-up Medicine Burn. The former is a sensual funk-rock jam indebted to Prince, led by a propulsive melodic bassline and blaring brass samples that emphasize and accentuate the choruses. The latter is a scorching experimental rager with notes of psychedelic rock, where Tumour howls about ‘the wilderness’ over distorted guitars that burble, shriek and squawk – sometimes simultaneously. Both are equally likeable and rewarding in their respective ways, and most importantly both present the same addictive quality from first listen. This manifests on Gospel for a New Century in its irresistible buttery groove and theatrical power chord chorus, where the drama and the weirdness get ratcheted to unimaginable heights by an enormous sonic wall of the aforementioned, oddly dissonant, sampled brass. On Medicine Burn, it is its oppressive heaviness and emotive lyrical imagery of men with ‘scarlet teeth’ and ‘a room full of kings’ severed heads’ which generate this effect.
'Their ability to light up even the more drab tracks on that album with a theatricality that surprisingly manages to remain genuine and provocative is a testament to their skills as both a lyricist and performer'.
These factors all amount to a record that may lack thematic cohesion across its 12 tracks – or any recognizable instrumental through line – but it more than makes up for these shortcomings with heaps of standout tracks, fiery performances and enough personality to spare. Many of the greatest moments occur when Tumour applies their devil-may-care punk attitude to styles that are traditionally measured and classy, allowing the album’s velveteen grooves and patiently regal instrumentation to sit as a counterpoint to their madcap vocals and presence.
They also imbue these genres with manic instrumental ideas and pallets few artists specializing in those genres would risk. This enthralling contrast was first indicated on second single Kerosene!, wherein Tumour delivers a surprisingly direct and measured mid-tempo rock jam that sits in the same smokey, sensuous wheelhouse as 90’s alt-rockers and Brit-Poppers like Pulp, as well as their modern day revivalist counterparts such as The xx (with some guitar tones and soundplay cribbed from 80’s post punk and gothic rock).
However, Tumour is able to elevate this oft-emulated, sometimes-drab archetype with an impassioned vocal take enhanced by some truly ethereal duetting guest vocals from Diana Gordon, as well as the electrifying freak-outs of distorted guitar noise and frantic soloing that consumes the latter half of the track. Elsewhere, closer A Greater Love’s enchanting, crooning lead vocal and striking embellishments of blocky synth and scorching distorted guitar build out its gorgeous 70’s soul instrumental in a truly otherworldly way.
Heaven For a Tortured Mind is not a perfect record sadly, and proceedings do lag somewhat in the latter half with a couple of songs, such as the intriguing but ultimately unvaried and unsatisfying instrumental Asteroid Blues. These songs seem to struggle with backing up Tumour’s undeniable instrumental and vocal dynamism and fascinating new sonic pallet with interesting and convincing songs. For the most part though, the songs presented here are equal parts enchantingly strange, punchily catchy and cathartically batshit crazy.
With some fine tuning of their songwriting and perhaps slightly more direction for a full project, Tumour has more than proven themselves capable here of writing a masterpiece –the sort of art that can redefine the medium it’s written in. Tracks like Gospel For A New Century and Strawberry Privilege present not only a strange new frontier for Tumour’s stoned and twisted Britpop revival but perhaps more largely for rock music in general. I’m excited to see where they choose to take us next.