Into the third month of quarantine, time spent within the confines of our homes has become frustrating and dull. The desire for connection and physical contact with other people has only made us restless, and the lack of this affection only seems to be getting the worst of people.
Enter the elusive Sean Bowie (if that is his real name) aka Yves Tumor and their third record, Heaven to a Tortured Mind, a spectacular genre-shifting exhibition of art rock, soul, and electronica containing songs with a passionate yearning for a distant lover. In times like these, we can relate to their desperate plea for proximity as they go through the different stages of heartache.
From their first release of ambient/noise pieces in Serpent Music, to a distinguishable transition of more experimental pop and rock in Safe in the Hands of Love, this latest record presents a smooth evolution into Tumor’s rock star persona with the charisma of a David Bowie or Prince.
Throughout Heaven, Tumor sings with temptation and lust. Opener “Gospel For a New Century” kicks off with triumphant horns blasting to the arrival of the demon himself. In the song’s music video, Bowie is clad with giant horns protruding out of his skull, with legs wrapped in fur resembling the Ancient Greek god Pan. It’s a striking image of the artist, as his limbs splay in seductive fashion. The eager need for their lover is apparent as they sing “ “Don’t make this harder / Come and light my fire baby / How much longer ’til December?” The track is one of Tumor’s more immediate songs, signaling a more traditional trajectory in style but without losing their artistic touch.
Throughout Heaven, this deprived aching of their long lost lover is palpable. Highlight “Kerosene” featuring Julia Cummings evokes a picture of Tumor lighting themself on fire for their lover. “I can be anything you need / I need kerosene,” sings Tumor. It’s a spectacular duet between the two vocalists as a robust guitar solo drives the music in glam rock fashion. The sound of lust and addiction is pervasive as erotic synths evaporate in sensuality.
Yves Tumor’s knack for playing around with different genres and different masks make Tumor one of the more fascinating figures in alternative music today. “Medicine Burn” and “Identity Trade” reminds one of Captain Beefheart guitar freakouts as Tumor drops ominous biblical references about the end of the world, while “Hasdallen Lights” and “A Greater Love” produces Soul-like vocal stylings over artful psychedelia. From album to album, their appearances shifts. On their Instagram and music videos, you can find the multiple personas Tumor evokes, displaying impermanence, not only found in their gender fluidity but in their art and music. On the promotion for Safe in the Hands of Love, Tumor is a green goblin; in the aforementioned “Gospel” video, a demon; on their Serpent Music album cover, a corpse; and in the promotional trailer for this record, a straight-up fashion icon.
Mid-record, a jolt of lightning strikes as “Romanticist” transitions to “Dream Palette.” An onslaught of shooting stars and fireworks blast from the sky as drums assault in unison — an impressive maximalist spectacle of sound. The effect is jarring yet captivating. By the time the Tumor and Cumming perform their second duet, the overwhelming feeling from the explosion never fades. It’s songs like these that make Tumor a successful experimentalist and collaborator, exploring different sounds from past records that evolve into this mesh of organic pop music.
On “Super Stars,” Tumor displays probably his best vocal performance yet. Upon getting to the bridge, the feeling of dependency is the most palpable in the record as they moan “I love you / I hate you / But I need you.” Eight tracks deep, you can sense the consumption of their emotions as their passion for the other implodes.
In the last four tracks of Heaven, the high from their passion has burned out. Delirium has finally been set upon Tumor as they lose track of time: “Monday, Tuesday, Friday Monday,” mumbles Tumor in disarray. “Strawberry Privilege” and “Asteroid Blues” then spotlight the bass guitar, the first instrument Tumor learned as a child, and it shows as a funky groove is laid behind ghoul-like samples. At the end of the record, “A Greater Love” exhibits Tumor’s soul influence as his sultry vocals soothe themself in a realization of unrequited love. Tumor sees no end in sight. They’re at the end of the rope, and it is clear that their lover’s feelings aren’t returned: “You deserve some different kind of lover / Autumn pulls me back into slumber.”
As self-isolation comes to an end (although alarmingly too soon), physical touch with others outside of our homes is still far off. Listening to Heaven to a Tortured Mind reminds us that we aren’t alone in this search for affection.