Under the alias of Yves Tumor Sean Bowie has spent the last five years confounding expectations. Earlier releases have used the tropes of dub, chillwave, post-industrial, ambient music and R&B to create an exhilarating and ever-changing sound. Contrasting this, his live performances have sometimes amounted to little other than sheer noise.
In the context of this penchant for experimentation Heaven To A Tortured Mind has a scope that is entirely expected. It also possesses a cohesiveness and a confidence that is entirely unexpected. Throughout the album Sean’s vocals are front and centre where previously they have often been buried or obscured. They are strong vocals too, delivered with an extrovert swagger. An obvious reference is the hypersexual delivery of Prince – and Heaven… is a very sexual album. However, there are times when the vibe is more glam-rock sleaze than late night sensuality.
Opener “Gospel For A New Century” sets things up perfectly. Sean purrs “This ain’t by design girl, to get softer, you know I’m out my mind girl, don’t make it harder” over a marriage of deconstructed hip-hop beats and heavily distorted guitar riffs that are rooted down by an un-apologetically funky bass rhythm. There is a fractured stop-start nature to the song that is both a strength and a frustration. Without it the song could be a genuine hit, yet it is all the more interesting because of it.
Further along the album recent single “Kerosine!” is just as irresistible. There is nothing stop-start here in what probably stands as Yves’ most direct pop song to date, and most certainly his smoothest. Yves is joined on vocal duties by Diana Gordon, and they intertwine hedonistic call-and-response pleas around guitar solos that shamelessly vibe on the aforementioned purple one’s “Purple Rain”. When Yves calls out “I can be where you need me, I can do anything” and Diana responds “I could be what you tell me to be, I could be what you need” before the first of said guitar solos the tension is palpable, and it never relents.
Though it is a future-facing album, the two closest points of comparison to it as a whole were both released fifteen years ago. The first is TV On The Radio‘s Return To Cookie Mountain and the second is Subtle‘s For Hero: For Fool. Like these two albums it is frantic and hyperactive, and made of so many moving parts that it feels like the overall sound is arrived on almost by chance.
The same standard isn’t maintained throughout the album after a dizzying opening quarter, but if it was then you would be looking at an all-time classic instead of what Heaven… is – merely an extremely rewarding and uncompromising work that isn’t afraid to offer simple pleasures or challenging listens.
Released 3rd April 2020 on Warp.