Album Review: Yves Tumor – Heaven To A Tortured Mind

[Warp; 2020]

On Yves Tumor’s last full-length, 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love, the artist revealed the enormous breadth of their musical proclivities, meaning that no simple genre tags truly stuck. It was obvious that Yves had enormous personality, but on that record it was usually hidden beneath layers of noise and unwelcoming production choices. The temptation was to say that Yves didn’t want to be the focal point and just wanted the music to do the talking, but any glimpse at the press photos around that album or the experience of seeing Yves cavorting on stage told a completely different story; one of someone committed to leaving their unique imprint on the world.

Heaven To A Tortured Mind is a much more blatant grab for the spotlight. Throughout the record, Yves’ voice is clear and central, the songs’ structures are more well-defined, and there is a clearer uniformity across the tracks. Although, you would still have a tough time pinning any single genre on them.

As on Yves’ previous album, love is the life force of these songs – but they’ll often leave you feeling anything but safe. These songs are carnal, describing relationships that devour from the inside out and leave you crawling back for more. And, for every musical choice that is usually associated with sexy time – sultry bass, steamy guitars – there’s one that’s completely unique – kinky, even.

“Gospel For A New Century” opens the record with chopped horn samples and a boom-bap beat, giving it a hip-hop swagger, but Yves’ vocal approach is closer to soul – especially as they’re singing about sex more explicitly than ever. Immediately, we have a much clearer image of Yves as they want to be perceived; a subversive sexual icon with no interest in toning down their more outré tendencies. If you’re down to ride with this personality, then Heaven To A Tortured Mind is a heck of a journey through unhinged sexual encounters that are cloaked by gnarled and alien textures.

Yves is a charismatic tour guide through this, and on Heaven we’re repeatedly invited into their neon and humid boudoir. Most notably on “Kerosene!” where they duet with Diana Gordon over radio-friendly guitar licks in a song that seems like a straightforward devotion (“you’re just what I need”) – although Yves makes sure to drop a little seasoning of strangeness at the end when they announce “I need kerosene!” At the core of “Super Stars” is an R&B bass-and-guitar combo ripped straight from an 80s boner jam, but Yves adds depth with anti-gravitational layers of sound, creating the perfect backing for this less-than-conventional hook up: “break me / mend me / help my heart recover.”

Yves is a dedicated lover, but often to a fault, leaving them strung out on desire and ready to contort to fit the other’s wants. On the relatively smooth “Romanticist” they confess “I wanna give you every piece of me… I wanna dance into your hurricane.” This connects directly into next track “Dream Palette”, which immediately throws us into the middle of a fireworks display of disorienting beats and literal firecrackers, while Yves yelps for adoration: “our hearts are in danger / tell me is this fundamental love?”

Most salacious of all is “Folie Imposée” in which Yves reaches their most primal state of desire, and is addicted to the feeling: “I’m your wildcat / you’re my hound,” they announce, before describing their physical connection as “our very own bloodbath / a spiritual war crime.” Although, picking out all those words without a glance at the lyric sheet is difficult, as Yves sounds as though they’re floating, experiencing an out-of-body experience from the sexual pleasure, their whispered words melding with the unsettling production of clipped guitars and aggravated crackles.

Heaven To A Tortured Mind is the kind of album that challenges listeners sonically and lyrically, and makes absolutely no bones about it. It’s full of forward-thinking musical combinations, but in its themes it’s even more progressive. It’s as if these songs have been sent back from a future where sex positivity is such an old idea that nobody remembers it – this is a world where there’s almost nothing else to talk about anymore, and absolutely no shame in openly describing each and every one of your desires and debasements. And, in this sex-first future, Yves Tumor is the biggest pop star on the planet.