Review Summary: a perplexing labour of love
On June 29, 2017, Yves sent out a (now deleted) tweet that said “ALL THESE LABELS WANT THE WEIRDO SHIT I JUST WANNA MAKE POP”. Lo and behold, his desires would begin to be fulfilled not too long after: 2018’s Safe in the Hands of Love
combined his trademark noisy soundscapes with more straightforwardly structured hits. Actually, it wasn’t quite so dualistic: amongst other things, we were given static-drowned roars, a woke indie banger, a languorous (and possibly mildly incestuous) ballad, more familiar ambient territories. Not yet the “pop” described, but this was the first sign of things to come.
I suppose it’s appropriate to call Heaven to a Tortured Mind
Yves’ bona fide
pop album, complete with retro-funk stylings. Not to say that it doesn’t try to be subversive, larger than life — for one thing, its release has been accompanied by a rather elaborate visual campaign, its moodiness and overt (queer-coded) sexuality represented by writhing bodies, jewels, ostentatious fashion and costumes. Yet, in trying to bridge the gap between “weird” and “pop” tendencies, Heaven to a Tortured Mind
fails to sufficiently capture the charms of either side, leaving a collection of slick-sounding but undercooked pieces. Buried deep down are the seeds of a cogent critique of tropes related to romantic love, but it never develops into an impactful message.
“Gospel for a New Century”, “Romanticist” and “Dream Palette” are the few tracks on the album that truly feel substantive and memorable. The first, full of heralding brass and seductive swagger, opens up the album with a grandeur that unfortunately never shows up again; the second, serving as a relaxed set-up, segues seamlessly into the psychedelic high of the third, which features exploding fireworks and makes good use of its shimmering guitar sample (from Willie Hutch’s “A Love That’s Worth Having”). Something about “Dream Palette”, in particular, recalls the layered nuances of Yves’ earlier work — a genuinely impassioned duet, a richly detailed interplay of clashing sounds, a mean groove being carried all the while. I suspect that it is successful in part because it doesn’t try to elaborate any further on its dedicated bassline-driven section; it knows when to indulge in layering and when to hold back to let integral components shine — in this case, the hypnotic rhythm section and forceful, punctuated vocal lines.
For lack of a better description, a majority of songs on Heaven to a Tortured Mind
simply lack a good hook. Given the album’s overt pop identity, it would naturally seem to be more hook-dependent than previous Yves works, and yet its attempts in this regard are half-hearted. Efforts to spice things up with weirdness fail: “Asteroid Blues”, for instance, is simply a repetitive bassline with distorted vocal samples sprinkled on top; other songs, equally repetitive, try to mask their lack of structural variety with odd harmonies and noise (“Medicine Burn”; the half-baked, abruptly ending “Identity Trade”) or simply settle into an atmospheric drift (“Hasdallen Lights”, “Strawberry Privilege”). “Super Stars” deserves a special mention for the irritating quality of its falsetto vocals, which comes off as sleazy. (I don’t care if the sleaziness is part of an intentional critique of romantic obsession. It’s annoying and memorable for all the wrong reasons.)
This lack of hook-based engagement is a real shame for the album’s lyrics, which are often in themselves not so far-removed from regular pop clichés (e.g. “I can live in your dream / Will you be my fantasy, little baby? / You’re just what I need”) and would have needed that conscious excess to really push them into a parodic or satirical realm. On songs where the subversion and criticism is more obvious (e.g. “Our very own bloodbath / A spiritual war crime / Addicted to the torment / Our mouths wide open” from “Folie Imposée”), there’s no cohesion between the message and the tone; “Folie Imposée” glitches out in a way that does convey tedium and repetitiveness, but fails to capture the undercurrent of pain that would have been the sticking element.
In short, I’m perplexed at what seems to have been a regression in Yves’ trajectory. Safe from the Hands of Love
had already begun to deftly juggle his “experimental” tendencies alongside burgeoning pop ones, but Heaven to a Tortured Mind
eliminates the diversity and nuance of its predecessor in favour of underdeveloped avant-pop. It’s bewildering that the success of “Dream Palette” hasn’t been replicated elsewhere on the album, given that it doesn’t rely on a particularly complex formula; it’s even sadder that “Super Stars” follows right after it, in a stark reminder of the album’s inability to capitalize fully on its concept.