Part Funkadelic, part Marc Bolan, Florida born psych-rock deity Yves Tumor's blend of experimental funk and glam rock is an alloy that combines into an effortlessly well considered sonic style for the artist's fourth studio LP, Heaven To A Tortured Mind.
Without any danger of exaggeration, I can confidently say that this album's opening track is the best song I have heard this year. 'Gospel For A New Century' is an incredibly impressive first step for an album to take, sampling together a gargantuan, Madlib-ian horn section on top of a gritty funk groove. This first track is pure, unadulterated sex funk. Lamenting a lost love, Tumor's delivery is a tantalising fusion of sinister eroticism that marks Heaven To A Tortured Mind as an album that immediately demands attention. The beat, while still featuring some trademark experimentation in stop-start sampling, is absolutely dripping in references to George Clinton's psychedelic funk rock pioneering and when listened to alongside Gina Ramirez's phenomenal bass tone, this opener is absolutely unmissable. Tumor's voice screams mysterious attraction, and perfectly compliments the recent Parliament-esque revival we have heard in a world where Childish Gambino's "Awaken, My Love!" garnered serious critical attention.
Admittedly, Heaven To A Tortured Mind sets such an impossibly high watermark for itself with its first tune that the entire album eventually suffers in comparison with it. Though a skipping sample and fluctuation of instrumental tones colours 'Gospel For A New Century' as a relatively experimental take on its inspirations, the track that follows it ('Medicine Burn') abruptly turns to a much more impenetrable and disjointed style. Though it is absolutely intentional for the artist to push the project into a more obtuse and difficult direction, the transition between these first two tracks is not one that flows together satisfyingly. The track opens up well, and there is a lot to dig into and enjoy within the exciting wall of sounds being presented by Tumor, but if anything in this album is a "slow burner", then 'Medicine Burn' is that.
'Identity Trade' combines a straight funk drum beat for an interesting construction of jarring guitar tones that blasts by for an intriguing 2 minute semi-interlude before switching off into an excellent track in 'Kerosene!'. For an album with such a wonderfully consistent and exciting sound, the progression of the record from song to song feels incredibly messy. Yves Tumor is an incredibly capable artist, so I don't imagine that these somewhat erratic changes in pace and accessibility are unintentional, but they are still harmful to the flow of the record. In my opinion, with the fantastic track 'Kerosene!' being a more accessible traditional funk song, the track is easier to follow than 'Medicine Burn' for example, and is probably the tune that comes closest to the quality of the album's first moments. Though not featuring any real sense of experimentation, Diana Gordon's voice cuts through with incredibly forcefulness in duet with Tumor, turning this fourth track into an excellent journey of smooth funk nostalgia.
The short 'Hasdallen Lights' follows as little more than an interlude that outstays its welcome, taking up two minutes of this (already short) run time with an instrumental that doesn't truly go anywhere. This is followed however, with 1:46 minutes of a phenomenal love song with 'Romanticist', furnished with spikes of gorgeous string performances and blasts of distorted guitar. As much of the album does, this tune dedicates itself to considering the intricacies of love through Tumor's persona, with the artist crackling through your speakers with a chorus of
"Keep you close, right by my side
Swear you've got me hypnotized"
and it just sounds so good. The album's desire to grab your attention with short bursts of instruments works so, so well on 'Romanticist', and flowing perfectly into 'Dream Palette' these two tunes at the centre of the album do very well to propel the momentum of the LP forwards. The balance achieved between experimentation and gnarling rhythmic pulsation is downright exceptional on this second act, and the album benefits greatly from another eye-wateringly powerful backing vocal performance, this time from the incredibly talented Julia Cummings. These two tracks are amazing, and Tumor keeps this hot streak going with the slow falsetto of 'Super Stars' strutting across the LP. The lead guitar tone is wonderful, complimented perfectly by a contortion of synthesizer swells and atmospheric pads.
Unfortunately, the final quarter of this album is an underwhelming listen where the tracks feel alarmingly uninteresting and unmemorable. The dull 'Folie Imposée' blurs into 'Strawberry Privilege', a forgettable tune that does its amazing song title a disservice. A Jordana / Tame Impala styled beat offers promise on the penultimate instrumental track 'Asteroid Blues', but I'm left feeling that if there was a time for an instrumental interlude on this album, it should have come much earlier. Final tune 'A Greater Love' ends the album in an incredibly underwhelming fashion, and leaves a disappointing taste - particularly when remembering how blisteringly the album started with the (and I cannot stress this enough) unmissable 'Gospel For A New Century.'
All over the album there seems to be a noticeable theme of either disorganisation or, perhaps more accurately mis-organisation. I am convinced that there is an excellent album somewhere in the funky mist of Heaven To A Tortured Mind, and though it is arguable that the artist may well have been attempting to make exactly this kind of a churning, electronic/funk maelstrom, regardless of intent this album does not flow as well as it should. If your album reliably sounds better structured and more cohesive when listened to in *shuffle* mode, then your album order needs rethinking. Ultimately, the high points of Yves Tumor's newest LP are some of the absolute best music to have emerged from 2020 thus far. I have a strong suspicion that many of the tracks I have issues with could've worked brilliantly if the album felt like it was working towards some kind of end goal, but with its lacklustre ending I feel as though either Tumor's album had a lack of direction, or it is a direction that I have entirely missed. It is a rough album that will require an openness to see where it's going, but in Heaven To A Tortured Mind there are songs that you should not go through 2020 having overlooked.
- 7.8 -
'Gospel For A New Century', 'Kerosene!', 'Romanticist' / 'Dream Palette'
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England.