Yves Tumor: Heaven to a Tortured Mind (Warp) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Heaven to a Tortured Mind


Apr 06, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Do you remember when rock music was cool? Not in that aloof bookish way we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years, but in the strutting cocksure sense of the so-called rock gods of old. The rock music of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, and David Bowie challenged conventions. It was sexy and dangerous, as likely to excite young people as it was to scare their parents. Nowadays, the freaks and weirdos of popular music are more often found in rap music, or in the ever boundary pushing world of electronic music.

Yves Tumor (who uses they/them pronouns) once belonged to the latter world, but over the past five years they have inched their way over to more conventional territory. 2016’s Serpent Music added guitars to Tumor’s experimental sketch-like compositions before 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love introduced clear, structured songwriting. Although that last record was at times grotesque and oppressive, its sharp singles—particularly “Noid” and “Lifetime”—suggested the possibility of Tumor taking their twisted reimagining of rock music to the mainstream. On Heaven to a Tortured Mind they grasp that opportunity with extraordinary confidence.

The mission statement is set out by the album’s swaggering lead single and opening track, “Gospel for a New Century,” which struts in on a rhythm that leans towards hip-hop and a blaring horn sample borrowed from a South Korean disco record. Yet, despite its eccentric details, “Gospel for a New Century” is a rock song at its heart as pure and direct as any written in the past decade. As chaos swirls around them, Tumor sings a message on the song’s chorus as old as the genre itself: “You know I’m out my mind, girl/Don’t make this hard/Come and light my fire, baby.” In their hands, lines that could have easily sounded hackneyed become viscerally exciting.

Tumor employs the trick of attaching rock conventions to leftfield arrangements repeatedly, and to great effect, on the rest of Heaven to a Tortured Mind. “Medicine Burn” is punctuated by passages of guitars which sound like a dentist’s drill malfunctioning. “Identity Trade” sees Tumor battle for attention with a freewheeling jazz saxophone and fragments of jagged riffs. And “Dream Palette” begins with an explosive ruckus that quite literally sounds like a whole fireworks display going off at once. When the instrumentals lean towards outright pastiche, Tumor’s songwriting is also sharp enough to justify it. “Super Stars” sounds like a lost glam-rock classic—as if Prince was leading Ziggy Stardust’s Spiders From Mars.

What grounds these songs is their focus on timeless passion. Throughout this album, Tumor sounds like a person possessed by lust. On 2018’s “Licking An Orchid,” they sang of painful desire: “Some call it torture/Maybe I enjoy it.” A similar conflict between pleasure and pain is on display here. “I wanna dance into your hurricane/Blinded by your glare again,” they sing on the lean and funky “Romanticist.” In the following song (“Dream Palette”), Tumor pleads for a “fundamental love”—“Our hearts are in danger,” they wail. Although the music on Heaven to a Tortured Mind pushes rock into experimental territory, the lyrics zero in on the simplest and most essential desires—love and lust—that have long powered the genre.

On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Tumor clearly evokes the music of the ’70s, when groups like George Clinton’s Funkadelic blurred the lines between rock and soul, but there are references from across the history of popular music here. This is a record thath takes stock of some five or so decades worth of rock music and suggests a path forward for the genre. Heaven to a Tortured Mind is strikingly disorientating at times, yet there is an immediate familiarity to it. This is rock reimagined for a new century, to use Tumor’s words, as thrilling and unpredictable as it must have felt during its heyday.


Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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