When you consider the idea of linear artistic development, you very rarely find a musician moving from idiosyncratic noise artist to more conventional rock star. However, on new album, Heaven to a Tortured Mind, genre-straddling, multi-instrumentalist Yves Tumor revels in the persona of full-blown rock god.
Nevertheless, as you would expect from an artist who came to prominence with the warped ambient collages of Serpent Music, this reinvention is anything but ordinary. Heaven to a Tortured Mind is just as dizzyingly inventive, but it’s also his most realized, song-driven album yet. Thankfully, that hasn’t come at the expense of his experimental, avant-garde sensibilities. Throughout the album, songs frequently shift from big rock numbers and soulful funk jams to paranoid freakouts as he assaults melodies and slashes at hooks.
The phenomenal opener, “Gospel For a New Century”, quickly overloads the senses with rumbling hip-hop bassline, shocked brass loops, and stuttering rhythms. Somehow Tumor manages to distill all these disparate elements into a deceptively straightforward indie song, reminiscent of early TV on the Radio’s complete with a chorus that leaves a lasting impression like a deep, purple bruise.
“Medicine Burn” begins with a heady rush of guitars, quickly pacified by a hypnotic, twisting, funk bassline. It’s an unpredictable listen as it veers from stuttering groove to moments of intense noise like a stray, writhing electrical cable. Throughout the album, it’s the rhythm section that grounds the songs. On “Identity Trade”, the bassline goes for the funk jugular while off-kilter drum loops, prise open the arteries.
“Kerosene!” finds Tumor taking on the role of seducer (“I can be your lover, little baby”) on a song so erotically charged it should come with a bucket of iced water. Featuring Diana Gorden, it plays like an age-old tale of two lovers caught in the destructive gravitational pull of a doomed romance — all over soaring Prince-Esque guitar licks that amplify carnal desires.
Constructed from backward loops, warped instrumentation, and pitched electronics, “Hasdallen Lights” feels like a song made in reverse, while “Romanticist” rests on a more straightforward R&B grove, albeit with sudden blasts of spiky guitar. Just as it ignites, it’s suddenly snuffed out, morphing into the skewed art-rock of “Dream Palette”, with both tracks featuring inspired turns from Sunflower Bean’s Julia Cummings and Kelsey Lu who add a little punk gristle.
“Super Stars” plays out as a soulful R&B jam that’s being subject to electric shock treatment. The longer the song runs, the more Tumor opens up deep sonic cracks as he willfully sabotages the mood. Considering the title refers to a delusional belief imposed on another, “Folie Imposée” is suitably unsettling. Like a tour of a fragmented mind, it’s an unnerving listen filled with paranoia and existential dread. Bolted together from shards of noise and swirling electronics all underpinned by cavernous layers of droning synths, it slowly draws itself in, like a sheet of paper being gradually scrunched up into a tight ball.
On “Strawberry Privilege”, Tumor marries a taut, soulful groove to experimental electronic collages. Again, it’s the bass that provides the anchor, allowing Tumor to sail off wherever the breeze takes him. The same is true of driving instrumental, “Asteroid Blues”, with distorted vocal loops and shrieking electronics circling a funk bassline.
Album closer “A Greater Love” ends the album on a silky smooth note. After what has come before, it’s like finishing an eclectic meal with a limited edition Beaujolais. With creamy analog synths, female vocal harmonies, and more Prince-esque guitar licks, it’s a gorgeously inviting ending to an album that so often keeps the listener at arm’s length.
On Heaven to a Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor clearly relishes his shift to microphone caressing rock star. Whereas on previous albums, he would obscure himself behind the music, here he steps out of his sonic chrysalis, dons some shiny black wings and soars.