A scream turns to heavy breathing, those breaths give way to bass and drums, and logic dissolves into glorious chaos on the opening track of Yves Tumor’s new album, Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds).
That lengthy title offers a taste of Tumor’s sense of humor, as well as a hint at their ambitions, which, like Matryoshka dolls, come nested one inside the other. Take the first song, “God Is a Circle,” which begins with the lyrics, “Sometimes, it feels like there’s places in my mind that I can’t go.” The sentiment seems to have multiple meanings: a thesis statement and personal challenge, a meditation on limits and a determination to break through them.
Along the way, Tumor sings of feeling “like a ghost inside a well,” ponders how to process learning that “everyone you love loves someone else,” and repeats the phrase, “Same old dance.” What you won’t hear in “God Is a Circle” is the word, “Circle,” though you can find God in Momma’s words and perhaps, if you listen closely, in the space between breaths.
“Everything around us feels unclean,” Tumor muses, “My Momma said, ‘God sees everything.'” Apart from this glimpse of an untidy deity, we are left to wrestle ourselves with how “God Is a Circle,” even as Tumor wrestles with relationships and pain. Perhaps that closed loop comes in the irresistible call and response of, “Same old dance,” which caps off the song and collapses a track’s worth of exploration and hurt into a clean, vicious cycle.
Tumor’s fourth album, produced by Noah Goldstein with Alan Moulder’s mix, maintains the adventurous spirit that energized their 2016 debut, When Man Fails You. But the sonic touchstones are now galaxies away. After that experimental introduction, Tumor released the pop-inflected Safe in the Hands of Love in 2017, and for 2020’s masterful Heaven to a Tortured Mind, they layered on full-throated psychedelic rock. 2021’s The Asymptotic World EP leaned further into those sounds, and now comes Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume with a different kind of first — the first consolidation of a sound. Instead of a whole new direction, it takes the more rocking moments of Heaven and Asymptotic World and mines them for fresh complexity, like a leaf under a microscope revealing boggling systems of fractals. Four albums in they’ve tried just about everything once, and on their latest album, they relish the things they do better than anyone else.
That includes a near-endless capacity for beauty and the perverse desire to interrupt it. “Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood” opens with ripping guitar riff, which is almost instantly cut off by a young boy saying, “Well if you die, it’s ok, you can just restart.” In context it’s funny and deeply unsettling, a reminder of both death and all the pursuits (like video games) that we use to distract ourselves from that inevitability.
That’s hardly the only place Tumor treats us to beauty only to force us to examine that pleasure from a critical distance. “In Spite of War” both begins and ends with the words, “Everyone told me you’re a creep,” but the narrator’s relationship to this “creep” remains ambiguous. The hook is pure heaven, even as the lyrics dabble in hell: “I just wanna know/ Will you be by my side,” Tumor sings as the music swells into a tidal wave of sound, “Dressed in the devil’s clothes/ I hear that angels lie, too.” Hit repeat on “In Spite of War” and that tension around the “creep” grows instead of resolving itself. Like so many tracks on the album, the lyrics reward multiple listens, even as the melody is sticky enough to stay with you after a single time through.
Tumor relishes keeping the listener off-balance. On “Parody,” they croon some of their most vicious words in their sweetest falsetto: “Send your face and name on a postcard/ A parody of a pop star/ You behaved like a monster/ Is this all just makeup?” On “Lovely Sewer,” they destabilize the dark groove with Kidä’s airy vocals, as together they tell a friend, “You can’t start a war/ Just to feel something.” “Echolalia” pairs toe-tapping drums and an infectious “ah-ah-ah” refrain with imagery of God and dolls and a “magical” friend who makes them “uncomfortable.” There’s a clear emotion being evoked, though I’m not sure it can be summed up in a single word; the fastest way to understand it might just be to listen to “Echolalia.”
Praise a Lord Who Chews… ends with the rapturous “Ebony Eye,” which finds Tumor repeatedly “Paralyzed/ By some glowing light,” as synths blast like the horns of heaven. After 12 challenging tracks, the album closes with a moment of unambiguous joy, and all the suspended tension feels resolved at last.
Looking over Yves Tumor’s four albums, the movement from When a Man Fails You to Safe in the Hands of Love through Heaven to a Tortured Mind and now Praise a Lord Who Chews… feels like it’s right there in the titles. Tumor went from writing about man, to love, to the very heavens, and now a hungry god. They’ve turned themselves into a ravenous rock deity, a masterful songwriter whose every release demands attention. And while the title of the album refers to one who Chews But Does Not Consume, it’s the kind of project that swallows you whole.
Yves Tumor will tour in April and May with festival dates set for later in the year. Tickets are available here.