Yves Tumor Demands A Fantastic Demise on Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)

Music Reviews Yves Tumor
Yves Tumor Demands A Fantastic Demise on Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)

What does the pop star for the end of the world look like? Considering how things are going at the moment, it might be worth looking around now for the answer; when you’re part of a species in complete crisis mode, it makes sense that our biggest musical stars now often seem like unwitting ringleaders of a cult of personality first and musicians second. There have always been stars of this type where you know the name better than the songs, but it feels more intense now, like a swath of incessant positivity parading to the beat of vague allusions to actual musical innovators of another time—a “better” time, for some, perhaps—that people will hold as sacred even if it says nothing original. This heightened intensity is certainly connected to the fact that we have access to everything these stars say and do and think (or don’t think). They make inoffensive, centrist statements about unity in order to not anger either side of the paranoid crowd they preach to. They aren’t threatening and don’t need to be—both the times and their fans are threatening enough. Maybe these messiah figures in our phones are what we deserve to have playing us out: Are we in any state to demand more? Would it be so bad to be serenaded out to something comfortable, knowing no one can save us? They certainly won’t, anyway.

These questions can’t help but come to mind when you hear Yves Tumor—alias of Miami, Fla.-born artist Sean Bowie—sing in a layered falsetto on “Parody”: “See your face and name on a postcard / Parody of a popstar / You behave like a monster.” The swelling, sauntering track arrives in the middle of Bowie’s fifth full-length album, Praise A Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds). It marks the latest bold step in the progression from their ambient/sound collage-inspired debut, 2015’s When Man Fails You, to 2020’s critically lauded art-rock opus Heaven To A Tortured Mind and 2021’s EP The Asymptomatical World, the former of which brought forth apt comparisons to the likes of Prince and the other Bowie. Still, to drop those names—suggesting the cover-band-level imitations others have attempted as of late—feels like it does the all-consuming world that this Bowie creates a disservice. The thing they have most in common with experimental forebearers like these is their inability to fit the mold provided for them, as well as their incessant need to reinvent themselves every time we turn our backs.

On Praise A Lord…, with the assistance of producer Noah Goldstein, their work still contains that urge to reference other genres and periods of time in music history, but it never feels like pastiche. If anything, Bowie is more interested in detaching it from any nostalgic context and placing it in the framework of their own immersive collage of sound. It’s psychedelic, but not dreamy or spaced-out; if anything, Bowie’s psychedelia is metallic—all intense greens and blues and purples that shade their maximalist, deconstructed vision. On each track, influences drop in and out against the buzz of a rattling bassline, trying on different styles without ever fully fusing them to the song’s skeleton. For instance, there are several jittery, simple guitar riffs that wouldn’t sound so out of place on early Interpol or Strokes songs, at least one track with a plaintively strummed acoustic break that harkens back to Britpop and bursts of squealing industrial guitars that attack and retreat as if Bowie tries them on and throws them off immediately. Even if, alone, they are familiar sounds, it’s designed to confront you with its constant shifting. Bowie knows they’re not cut out to be that “parody of a pop star,” even if they wanted to be, but they’ll weaponize those sounds against you, more afraid of an end that feels sterile or safe than an end in general.

It’s fitting, then, that Bowie’s lyrical fixation here is worship, the type of one-sided adoration most will cling to when faced with our inevitable demise. This leaves them to flit from obsession to obsession, in search of a landing pad when things eventually crash and burn—looking to “start a war just for the feeling,” as they sing on “Lovely Sewer.” If the previous album’s opener, “Gospel For A New Century” served as Bowie’s most self-assured, accessible statement to date, Praise a Lord… lead single and opener “God Is a Circle” thrums with anxiety, marrying a literal panting beat and shiny, harsh synths to the suggestion that they have no reason to assure anyone of anything: “Maybe I made it all up in my head / It’s a version of myself / And everyone else that I love.”

In the face of that uncertainty, the other tracks find Bowie scrambling for a savior—whether it’s a higher power or another person they insist should take the role on. In some cases, it’s the aforementioned pop figure introduced on “Parody,” which by its end, devolves into a sludge of pitched-down vocals and bass, as if its subject is a broken animatronic who has lost the will to function. Similarly, the dance-punk thrash of “Operator” finds Bowie competing with a wall of siren guitars and a cheer team’s “Be! Aggressive!” chant as they demand accountability from the other end of the line (“Are you my lord and savior? / Are you here to save me?”). The climax never completely spells out who this expected savior is, but it’s not difficult to tie it back to the inaccessible celebrity of earlier songs; as a booming voice from above cuts through our screams, we’re left to wonder what they are to us—a creator and fellow human being, or a team to cheer on violently as we fight a stan war to cast more pressing issues aside?

Even when the object of Bowie’s adoration is someone they can touch, there’s still dissonance in their desire: a blind panic in search of both salvation and a distraction from their world going up in flames. Second single “Echolalia” (which brilliantly samples its bassline from “Lobotomy,” a 1981 track from Italian coldwave band Neon) sees Bowie on their knees at a crush’s feet on the dancefloor, repeating statements of devotion with bated breath like they’ll fold for good if they can’t keep praising them. It makes sense that the title refers to the meaningless repetition of words, as the middle section samples a voice bringing reason into the proceedings (“If you say you love me and that, like, your happiness only depends on me, it might not be true love. Maybe there’s something in me that you want and you think it’s love—It’s not love!”) before the beat kicks back in and we slam the door on any rationality. The lyrics turn their attention back to the deification of Bowie’s object of infatuation, sounding more like nonsensical babble as the song goes on. The fact that they describe the person as “look[ing] just like a god” gives them away.

Though the album contains some of the most straightforward rock songs of Bowie’s career so far, their search for a savior still scales to grandiose heights. Third single “Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood” transforms before us as a chaotic wave of guitar shredding comes to a halt at the sound of thunder and grandiose set pieces move to begin a completely new song halfway through. As Bowie pleads for purity amid the darkness, the whole thing eventually melts into a quiet, staticky outro laden with piano and synths. Later, “Fear Evil Like Fire” is hoisted up by cooing, angelic back vocals as Bowie describes “watch[ing] the city vibrate” from above—perhaps casting themselves as the worshiped deity in this song’s narrative—followed by instrumental “Purified By Fire,” where an aggressive boom bap beat snakes in and out of triumphant horns and the airy backing vocals cut out abruptly. Even as they claim to flail for meaning under the gaze of an “empty sky,” these high impact dynamic changes show Bowie in complete control of their creation. Each element introduced or stricken feels intentional, creating a surrealist, referential pop opus that exhibits reverence for what’s come before while clearing the path for whatever follows them.

If there’s ever been a time to attempt to play God, Bowie knows they’re in prime position to begin and takes full advantage. They’ve proven themselves, as the album title would suggest, as an artist who consumes, forced to be among those who simply chew and are worshiped anyway. They know their time at the pop pulpit won’t come, and that’s fine—they wouldn’t have the space to disrupt in the way they want to if they had to be watched that intensely. They seem much happier working from below, demanding we choose which lord we’ll follow as they smile up at us wryly and knowing they’ll capture our demise like no one else: “What makes you feel so important? / Can you spell it out for us?”

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