Yves Tumor’s ‘Heaven To A Tortured Mind’ is a big, loud, art rock opus — review
If 2018's great Safe In The Hands Of Love saw Yves Tumor poking their head out from under the murky, experimental waters that defined their earlier electronic work, then Heaven To A Tortured Mind sees Tumor growing legs and marching out of the sea entirely. Safe -- Tumor's Warp debut -- still had a handful of songs that marked a natural progression from Tumor's earlier work, but the mid-album run of "Noid," "Licking An Orchid," and "Lifetime" saw Tumor making loud, lively art rock that demanded to be heard by a wider audience than Tumor had ever had in the past (and succeeded in doing so). As Heaven proves, those songs were no flukes. This album goes even further in the direction of those songs, and it beats them at their own game several times. It's as much a leap from Safe In The Hands of Love as that album was from 2016's Serpent Music. It's the sound of an artist following an extremely hyped breakthrough album without letting the hype get to them or falling into any kind of slump, and just making good on the promise of the last LP.
Like Safe In the Hands of Love, Tumor produced this one with Justin Raisen (Sky Ferreira, Angel Olsen, Kim Gordon, Marissa Nadler, etc), and Heaven To A Tortured Mind also has a few well-matched guest vocalists, including Kelsey Lu, Sunflower Bean's Julia Cumming, Hirakish, Clara La San, Pan Daijing, and Diana Gordon, the latter of whom gives a show-stopping performance on "Kerosene!". Unlike Safe In the Hands of Love -- which gradually built up to the most immediate, cathartic songs -- Heaven drops you right into the action from the start. It kicks off with "Gospel For A New Century," which came out as the album's lead single in February and is in the running as one of 2020's best singles, hitting you right away with bold horn arrangements and one of the most tastefully hooky rock choruses in recent memory ("this ain't by desiiiiign girllllll..."). It stays on that level of bold, loud art rock with "Medicine Burn" and "Identity Trade," and then it's the aforementioned "Kerosene!", a classic-style rock ballad with soaring guitar solos and a duet from Tumor and Diana Gordon, whose belted vocals have some serious Natalie Merchant vibes and who is the only person on this album to ever steal the show away from Yves Tumor. If it sounds a little '70s, it's at least in part because the song uses elements of the 1976 song "Weep In Silence" by Uriah Heep, a killer hard/prog rock band who aren't usually a reference point within modern-day indie.
A bit later on, there's the Kelsey Lu-aided "Romanticist," which flows seamlessly into the Julia Cumming-aided "Dream Palette" and then makes the kind of about-face transition that The Beatles made on "A Day In The Life" or Deerhunter made on "He Would Have Laughed" -- a two-part suite that puts you in a daze and then wakes you up with an unexpected yet sobering and satisfying transition. Big-sounding rock bands keep coming to mind because that's the kind of record Heaven To A Tortured Mind really is. I suspect this one will reach even wider audiences than its predecessor, but those who have been following Tumor since the experimental electronic days need not fear that it abandons the artist's roots. Like both The Beatles and Deerhunter, Heaven is an experimental record even during its poppiest moments. It's got the thrill of a big, loud, catchy rock record, but it never relies on obvious, cheap tricks and it always earns the "art" or "avant-" prefix. And though this album doesn't have anything as deeply weird as, say, Safe In the Hands of Love's industrial noise track "Hope In Suffering (Escaping Oblivion & Overcoming Powerlessness)," it does have a more overtly weird side. The album's second half is more dreamy and ethereal than the first. There's not much in the way of immediacy towards the end, but the later songs offer up the kind of slower burn that might sneak up on you after your twentieth or thirtieth listen. That might sound like a lot of listens, but I suspect it won't be too hard to get there. Every time Heaven To A Tortured Mind ends, all I want to do is play it again.
Heaven To A Tortured Mind is out now on Warp. Stream it below...