Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Warp Records · April 3, 2020
Few modern artists possess a mystique equal to that of Yves Tumor, an elusive artist based in Italy who has been known to shapeshift from genres all across the musical landscape, merging his earlier ambient sound with his more recent incorporation of pop and rock that does not stray too far from tradition. Born Sean Bowie, they began releasing music under the Yves Tumor moniker in 2015 with a collage of eerie ambient tracks, releasing roughly one full-length project per year up to their fifth and newest official release, Heaven to a Tortured Mind, in 2020.
Though Tumor’s sound has evolved massively over the years, it’s become even harder to pin down a full-length Yves Tumor project into a neat set of subgenres; their previous release, Safe In The Hands of Love, frequently incorporates influences from ambient, psychedelic, pop, and hard rock music. On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, though, there is a definite pivot towards art rock, frequently featuring flourishing electric guitar riffs and Tumor’s dramatic, raspy delivery, reminiscent of glam rock-era David Bowie. The lead single and opening track to the album, “Gospel for a New Century,” establishes Tumor’s new sound and sets the tone for the album perfectly, contrasting a buoyant bassline with wicked horns and eventually a full-fledged rock crescendo near the two-minute mark, staking out Tumor’s role of an unlikely rockstar for the remainder of the project.
Though it would be impossible to trace back any of the lyrics on this album to Tumor’s personal life, the lyrical themes on their newest album are the most intense and passionate to date, with a tracklist constantly referring to relationships, sex, and desire. One of the several standout singles released prior to the full album, “Kerosene!”, features guest vocalist Diana Gordon, whose powerful vocals paint a vivid picture of a fiery partnership, starkly contrasting Tumor’s distinctly masculine voice. The two singers’ voices overlap throughout the latter half of the song, portraying an emotional struggle between the two lovers as well as combining a climactic rock instrumental to create a beautiful soundscape. On the track “Romanticist,” in a sensual, uptempo chorus that smacks of Prince influence, not lessened by the fact that Tumor’s voice is vaguely similar to the pop icon, Tumor covets a partner: “I wanna give you every piece of me / You know you are my everything / I wanna dance into your hurricane / Blinded by your glare again.” For the singer’s earliest fans, those who listened when Tumor strung minimalist samples into sound collages with no vocals, it would have been once unthinkable that Yves Tumor would be making magisterial love songs only five years later, but that’s exactly what Heaven to a Tortured Mind is.
The beautiful aspect of this musical transformation is its natural feel. Though the newest record is sonically dissimilar to Tumor’s earliest works, in which the listener could imagine Tumor quietly scouring old records and tapes for peculiar sounds that could be patched together into songs, Tumor maintains a direct hand in the production and composition of every song on his newest, most lavish record. The fact that the album is distributed by the independent Warp Records, home to fellow musical weirdos Danny Brown, Flying Lotus, and Brian Eno, makes all too much sense. Though Tumor remains a media recluse, this album is a pleasant and perhaps unexpected glimpse at their personality. The intensity of the album levels off in the latter half, revealing a more vulnerable side of Tumor, like the chorus on “Strawberry Privilege,” ditching the bravado of many of the preceding tracks and replacing it with a high-pitched performance describing someone who “Loves to run out of sight.”
The album’s tracklist is airtight, sitting at 12 songs that average three minutes apiece. Boasting Tumor’s best vocal performances to date and plush rock instrumentals which make their genre-bending style more accessible than ever, it’s clear that Tumor’s star power is continuing to rise with each release.