Yves Tumor began their career in the low-ceilinged world of experimental noise, but from the outset, their yearning—for bigger stages, sweeping statements, limitless horizons—was palpable. “I only want to make hits,” they said with a laugh in 2017. “What else would I want to make?” Since signing to Warp, Yves Tumor has scaled upward so quickly that it sometimes seemed their own music was racing to contain their ambitions. As 2018’s darkly sensuous Safe in the Hands of Love gave way to the sex-god theatrics of 2020’s Heaven to a Tortured Mind, the only true constant was Tumor’s near-religious devotion to the possibilities of recording—for the careful placement of perfect sounds within implied space. For Tumor, headphone space is holy space, a sanctuary in which all sorts of transfigurations become possible.
With Praise a Lord Who Chews but Does Not Consume (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), Tumor reaches an inflection point in their arms race with their own talent and ambition. They’ve got Noah Goldstein on board, a one-time Kanye engineer who worked on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, alongside Alan Moulder, one of the most celebrated architects of guitar sounds in rock history. From the sound of it, they’re pursuing an ecstatic fusion of alt-rock and R&B, seeking the mysterious nexus where Loveless meets Purple Rain. The guitars roar with jet engine propulsion, threatening to consume everything in their midst, a clear trademark of shoegaze pioneer Moulder, while Tumor’s doubled vocals ring out in an unmistakable echo of Prince. On “Operator,” Tumor even lets out the pained, wordless eros-yip—more feline than human, equally childlike and adult—that was one of Prince’s aural markers.
Countless bands have turned to Moulder over the decades, hoping some of the comet-trail dust of his famous shoegaze records would settle on their project. But only someone with an imagination as glittering and generous and expansive as Tumor’s can tap Moulder and make a record like this. Purely in sensory terms, it’s difficult to imagine many richer-sounding rock records being released this year.
Tumor treats sounds so lovingly they sometimes resemble a director framing and lighting a beloved actor, and every sound on Praise enters the mix with near-visible entrance and exit cues. The wall of guitar distortion that kicks in on “Meteora Blues” only lasts a few moments on each chorus, but it is the most exhilarating evocation of the Smashing Pumpkins guitar sound that has ever existed outside of Melon Collie or Siamese Dream. Once you hear it, you spend the rest of the song yearning for it to return. Ditto the synthesizers that well up in the last minute of “Echolalia,” so dimensional and detailed it feels as if you could reach and put your fingers through them like mist. It’s a testament to Tumor’s loving touch that none of these gestures feel empty or formal: Each one resounds with the fullness, somehow, of a life lived.
The mix on Praise a Lord is dark and viscous, with reverb so thick that every sound—the drums, the keyboards, and above all, the guitars—seems to swim through organic muck to reach your ears. In this superheated mix, all waveforms denature and melt—the gasps hit like snares, the drums feel like breath on your hand. There is a little Kevin Shields in the way Tumor manipulates sounds; the way the triggered samples detonate on late-album highlight “Purified by the Fire” recalls MBV’s “Touched.” On “Parody,” Tumor’s keening falsetto could just as easily be emitting from a synth pad or an amplifier. Within the glistening world constructed on Praise a Lord, they’re just another beautiful, alien life form streaking past our sight.
Tumor’s lyrics, when they break the surface, feel engineered to flash against your eyelids—“Stare straight into the morning star/With lips just like red flower petals,” goes an evocative line from “Meteora Blues”—more than to tell stories. “You’re still a friend of mine/We met on Chapman and Catalina,” they sing in “Lovely Sewer.” The line seems less like the beginning of a story than marooned flotsam from someone’s life, a scrap torn from a journal or the first sentence of an overheard conversation. The lyric sheet to Praise a Lord is a wishing-well of “I’s” and “we’s,” an ocean of private lives observed from celestial height. “It’s a version of myself and everyone else I’ve loved,” Tumor sings on “God Is a Circle,” providing a clue as to the source of these private lives. It feels like the most personal admission on the album.
There are stray moments across the 12 tracks where the songwriting briefly thins out, letting the tremendous atmosphere do the heavy lifting. The slower numbers, by and large, are less captivating. But everything comes together with “Ebony Eye,” the final track and the realization of all of Tumor’s ecstatic visions. The guitars advance like a battalion and Tumor’s voice replicates itself until they are a chorus of supplicants, palms turned skyward and begging for deliverance. It suggests, improbably, that there are even bigger places for Tumor yet to go.
Listen to our episode on Yves Tumor on The Pitchfork Review podcast