Review | Yves Tumor - Heaven To A Tortured Mind
Sean Bowie transforms their persona, Yves Tumor, into a distorted 70s rock star. Heaven To A Tortured Mind demonstrates an artist at the top of their game in the present day.
Sean Bowie is the definition of a fluid musician. Ranging from outfits that make '80s synth-pop groups look tame in fashion choice, to progressing through genres like a bucket list under different monikers, Bowie has seen the biggest success under Yves Tumor. After garnering attention through two studio records and a compilation, Bowie signed to Warp Records, releasing three singles, ‘Noid’, ‘Licking An Orchid’ and ‘Lifetime’, three tracks that made up the 2018 breakthrough record, Safe In The Hands of Love. Released without any prior announcement, critical acclaim led to more popularity as an artist. A world tour under ‘Yves Tumor and its Band’ followed, with Bowie taking a live band behind them. Rapturous live shows in promotion of Safe In The Hands Of Love resulted in rave reviews, showing Bowie as a frontman who reminded viewers of the hey-day of eccentric acts like Marc Bolan from T. Rex and Prince. Now, Bowie has released, inarguably, a highly anticipated record to follow up their success. Heaven To A Tortured Mind is an extension of the more accessible cuts of Safe In The Hands Of Love, pulling more influences from psychedelia, art rock, alternative R&B, and glam rock.
Heaven… opens up with the lead single ‘Gospel For A New Century’, an epic art-rock cut that introduces this current Yves Tumor project perfectly. Organic drums and bass sound like rejected cuts from a Prince record, coupled with reverberating horns and wailing guitars. Heading into ‘Medicine Burn’, the rhythm section still manages to sound crisp, functional and funky in the mix, alongside Bowie’s half-screams of ‘0600 / 0600 / 0600 / 0600’. Soundscapes of synthesizers and spliced vocals provide a callback to Bowie’s old projects, particularly Safe In The Hands Of Love.
Unlike old projects, Bowie’s vocals are much more forward in the final mix across all tracks here. Arguably, the vocal style here is not as crooning, or as trained, as the influences smattered all over the record, but works in the bigger picture, much like an Ian Brown or Bernard Sumner. The effectiveness of Bowie’s vocals is apparent on ‘Identify Theft’ and ‘Kerosene!’, with the latter as one of the highlights of the record. Bowie duets with Diana Gordon, who offers her voice to a wonderfully '70s art-rock instrumental that manages to extrapolate ambient and psychedelic elements, smashing them together over a heavily intimate track. Clocking in at just over five minutes, ‘Kerosene!’ is the longest track on Heaven…, yet also is one of the most rewarding. ‘Hasdallen Lights’ is a satisfying transition, although keeps a tame approach that remains largely forgettable in its short time and ambition as a single track. Four of the twelve tracks on Heaven… clock in at around two minutes, making it a less cohesive record than previous Yves Tumor outputs due to ideas that should have been fleshed out in a bit more detail; the track ‘Romanticist’, whilst incredibly satisfying to listen to, comes across as underdone and that an extra verse would have benefitted progression across the entire record. Transitioning into ‘Dream Palette’ is explosive and provides a newfound energy to the record.
A true highlight of Heaven… is the track ‘Super Stars’, which demonstrates an artist having fun with their work. Raunchy, intimate and oozing sensuality, ‘Super Stars’ in a parallel world could sound like a remix from a NxWorries record. A grooving bassline, phasers and sliding guitars make this akin to a twisted Tame Impala remix – yet, Bowie arguably outperforms Kevin Parker in terms of a neo-psychedelic track. Swiftly changing up the atmosphere in the following track ‘Folie Imposée’, Bowie is more claustrophobic with the production and vocals, sounding somewhat whispery in tonality. Sparse guitar chords echo back to the short-lived trip-hop era, again echoing back to Bowie’s past records. However, Heaven… catapults their voice to the front, alongside their instrumentals, indicating improved clarity and confidence.
Heaven… and its final three tracks ‘Strawberry Privilege’, ‘Asteroid Blues’ and ‘A Greater Love’ provide more satisfying, psychedelic-tinged instrumentals, yet don’t add anything further to the Yves Tumor sound. ‘Strawberry Privilege’ is thinner in instrumentation. Instead of booming soundscapes, hushed vocals and strings wash over the listener, at times almost sounding despondent in its atmosphere. ‘Asteroid Blues’ opens with a fantastic driving bassline, picking up heart rate and attention, yet has little time or opportunity to go anywhere. The closer ‘A Greater Love’ is arguably the slowest track here, harking back to an old jazz piece, now twisted by Bowie and the band behind them in terms of interpretation. Unlike Safe In The Hands Of Love, Bowie constricts themselves to alt-RnB and glam rock structures, leaving little to change in terms of the more abstract pieces from previous efforts.
Heaven To A Tortured Mind demonstrates that Yves Tumor, as a persona, has been converted into a fledgling rock star. For Sean Bowie, it shows an artist at the top of their game in terms of instrumentation and creativity. Fans of Safe In The Hands Of Love will see masses of appeal in this latest record, although they may struggle with how safe Bowie has played with song structures. In essence, Heaven… is a pop and alt-R'n'B record, with a fantastic display of creativity across the board.
However, Bowie manipulates these basic structures to create something more pulsating, with more livelihood and oozing replayability. Awaiting to see what Bowie releases next under the Yves Tumor moniker is akin to a non-solvable math problem. What changes now is that we finally have some
foundations for trying to solve it.
Best Track: Super Stars
Worst Track: Hasdallen Lights