If there is a correct way to say the title of Yves Tumor’s new album, Praise a Lord Who Chews But Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds), it’s without stopping for breath. Try it, and pay attention to the heaviness of the next out-breath, how quick it is to leave your body. You have to before you even consider the meaning behind that long string of words, which tease out some of the album’s themes but shouldn’t be treated as more than a poetic evocation. Hot Between Worlds is the first thing you feel right when it kicks off; people will point out the scream that opens ‘God Is a Circle’, but driving the song is a relentless, mechanical panting – nervous, sinister, eager, or ecstatic, it’s not clear, even as it’s the same sound that loops over. In the lyrics, Tumor drifts between self-conscious introspection (“There’s places in my mind that I can’t go/ There’s people in my life I still don’t know”) and an otherworldly kind of pleasure (“I feel like I’m fluorescent holding you”). This might be their definition of heaven, but it’s no resting place.
Tumor has evolved from experimental sound collagist to glam-rock star, but even as they have become more “hook-focused,” as the artist recently told Courteny Love, the sensual, elusive, and divine qualities of their music remain at its core, interacting in rich and captivating ways. Praise a Lord is not a drastic shift from 2020’s glamorously theatrical Heaven to a Tortured Mind, but it carries its creator’s boundless vision with the same urgency. Tumor is a master of tension and release, and on Praise a Lord, they linger in the space between the two in a way that feels physical more than just explorative. Listening to the record, you’re struck by sounds whose main influence must have been breath – and not just as rhythm, which is natural and common, but in giving texture to guitars (except on ‘Meteora Blues’, where the reference point is clearly just Smashing Pumpkins), direction to vocals (on the gripping ‘Echolalia’), and heat to deconstructed samples (the chaotic, chopped-up dance of ‘Purified by Fire’). Even when it feels out of control, the breath has an almost stubborn way of falling into constancy and comfort, and Tumor channels this palpable tendency to be pure and full into a deeper, more tangled yearning.
No single framework can do justice to the complexity of Tumor’s work, even if Praise a Lord, which was produced by Noah Goldstein and mixed by Alan Moulder, seems more intent on solidifying disparate sounds than stretching them further apart. ‘God Is a Circle’ perfectly encapsulates the liminal state Tumor keeps diving headfirst into, revealing bits of what they find and obfuscating others. By contrast, the following ‘Lovely Sewer’ is less multi-faceted, offering a more a more mundane picture of a relationship while still triggering the imagination: “You cannot start a war/ Just for the feeling/ What if our friends see/ We stared at our ceilings.” Tumor is known primarily as a sonic innovator whose mysterious, abstract lyricism is always in service to their (increasingly approachable) music, but their choice of words is often incisive and powerful more than simply aesthetic. The lyrics on ‘In Spite of War’ are vague but not inscrutable, with lines like “The absence of our isolation can tear our fears away” suggesting a certain longing for communion while betraying an inability to surrender to it.
In the album’s most pivotal moments, Tumor reaches for transcendence as much as they embrace primal desires. The title of ‘Heaven Surrounds Us Like a Hood’ brilliantly describes the feeling, and the song lives up to it. At once heady and anthemic, tender and vicious, it’s a thunderous frenzy that glistens with possibilities, breaking only for Tumor to declare: “This world feels so ugly when life makes a fool of us.” And maybe this explains their strange devotion to beauty, a human construct so fragile and important we’d rip ourselves open for it, like the key to a higher power. Tumor’s music doesn’t ache for any sort of godly destination, but it is transfixed by the potential for transformation, and Praise a Lord proves they’ll harness all the beauty and horror necessary to breathe life into each striking form.