Some say the place you’re from is what makes you who you are. If that truly is the case, then Sean Bowie certainly is a complex person. Born in Miami and raised in Knoxville, Tennessee, they attended college in Southern California and briefly resided in Leipzig, Germany. Bowie, better known by their recording name Yves Tumor, now lives and works in Turin, Italy. If that was too much, here’s a streamlined version: first Miami, then Knoxville, then Southern California, then Leipzig and now Turin. That’s a lot of places, and somehow, not a single one sticks out as a prominent influence on Tumor’s music.
Yves Tumor’s brand of rock is unlike that of any other artist. They have so many influences it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where the Yves Tumor sound comes from. However, it has been said that Tumor started making music as a way to escape their conservative and growth-stunting surroundings in Knoxville. Of all the places that have shaped Tumor, this is the most important one. Their music is an artful, expressive escape from the bland and monochrome ordinary, established by 2018’s outstanding Safe in the Hands of Love. Their most recent album, Heaven to a Tortured Mind, keeps that same momentum.
Heaven to a Tortured Mind is a bit of a throwback album, calling back to the massive sounds of ’90s behemoths like Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam, but the record is like the weird kid brother to that style. The album’s foundations are laid in huge choruses and soaring riffs. Tumor is never afraid of exploring other genres, but this project always seems to return to its rock roots. Somehow, all this mixing and matching works, and it works really well. Thanks to Tumor’s fearless exploration, Heaven to a Tortured Mind is as sticky and enjoyable as an album can get.
Take “Medicine Burn” as an example of this fearlessness. Outwardly, it sounds like a standard rock song, but there’s a whole lot more going on beneath the hood. The cacophonous guitars live on the verge of noise, and around the middle of the song they suddenly and abrasively break the noise barrier, erupting into nothing short of pure madness. Surprisingly, the track eventually fades into nothing more than a handful of futuristic blips and bleps, with no trace of the earlier instrumentation to be found. But somehow this combination works, resulting in one of the most infectious songs on the album, all thanks to Tumor’s ability to wrangle any sound exactly the way they want to. Their lyrics perfectly accentuate the noise, with lines like “He’s got scarlet colored teeth, she had severed heads / And six hundred teeth, and six hundred / And six hundred, and six hundred,” making the song even stickier than it already was.
Some of the tracks, like “Gospel for a New Century” and “Kerosene!,” lean more heavily toward the rock end of the spectrum, and they’re all the better for it. These rock songs are something of a cheat code for Tumor. They pull them out like a winning card hidden in their sleeve; these songs cannot be beat. They sound like they’re made for stadium tours, even though they incorporate typical non-rock instrumentation like bombastic brass or dreamy keys and synthesizers. They both have gigantic hooks that practically beg to be screamed out loud for the whole world to hear. Miraculously, these aren’t the only songs that stand out on the record.
When Tumor begins to slow things down and turn a bit darker and more insular, they begin to shine brightest. “Hasdallen Lights” is the best example of this, though “Strawberry Privilege” and “Super Stars” deserve to be mentioned as well. “Hasdallen Lights” kicks off with a little warped guitar lick that is quickly joined by a moody string section, supporting Tumor as they ask questions like “What are your running from? / What do you miss? / Tell me, what do you crave? / How do you feel?” in a delicate falsetto, as Tumor is asking themself these very questions. After a couple of repetitions, Tumor, drenched in despair and reverb, finally begins to piece the answers together: “Her song, her song, her song … Running from my shadow … I miss the sound of you … trouble, trouble, trouble.” It is in these moments that Tumor begins to show who they really are and how the places they grew and developed in affected them.
Heaven to a Tortured Mind is the perfect follow-up record to Safe in the Hands of Love. It takes Safe’s already accessible version of rock-infused avant-garde music and makes it simultaneously more rock-centric and more experimental. It’s a bit of a tough combination to wrangle together without sounding like you’re trying too hard to be experimental, but Tumor managed to pull it off with ease. Given that Heaven to a Tortured Soul builds off of Safe in the Hands of Love, where Tumor goes next remains up in the air. They might go more toward rock, they might go more toward ambience or noise or they might go somewhere completely different. Tumor’s trajectory remains cloudy and uncertain, but that uncertainty is what makes their music so captivating and exciting.