Photo by Vitali Gelwich
Yves Tumor — Heaven To A Tortured Mind (Warp)
With Heaven To A Tortured Mind, Yves Tumor revels in a rock star mythos built to hypnotize and seduce with its hazy hedonism. Tumor, who uses they/them pronouns, first made waves with the 2018 release of Safe In The Hands of Love, an enthralling mix of experimental noise and electronic ambiance. Heaven favors a more mainstream sound but there’s still the same genre fluidity that defines their earlier works. The album is glam rock made for 2020, complete with touches of fuzzy psychedelia, noise and soul.
Tumor kicks things off with “Gospel For A New Century,” an indelible blend of swaggering horns and percussion-driven by a sultry charisma that quickly sets the record’s tone. Touch feels nearly perceptible throughout as Tumor sings of lost love and secret ecstasy. The warm textures and full-band feeling of the production give the music all the physicality of a smoke-filled, hidden rock club of eras past, but no instrument is as tactile as Tumor’s voice. Throaty howls and raspy intonations make up the record’s fabric. On “Super Stars,” a punctuated falsetto takes the spotlight; on “Dream Palette,” Tumor’s voice haunts as they question “Tell me, is this fundamental love?” amidst driving guitars and firework-like whistles. All this comes to a head on “Kerosone!,” a dizzying five-minute duet with singer Diana Gordon that takes its time letting the seduction simmer. The pot inevitably boils over with an explosive guitar solo as Gordon and Tumor’s hushed yearnings give way to intoxicated screams. The effect is pure rapture.
– Annie Lyons
Purchase Heaven To A Tortured Mind HERE
Photo by Eric Gyamfi
Moses Sumney — græ (Jagjaguwar)
If there’s a successor to Brian Wilson’s “wasn’t made for these times” brand, it’s probably Moses Sumney, the enigmatic LA singer. The ambitious twenty-song double album græ, released in two parts, the first in February, the remainder just this month, feels like art of another world, especially given the state of our current one. Sumney doesn’t write pop songs in the conventional sense. The word ‘love’ doesn’t really come up, there’s not a single hook to pull you in. Everything is fluid-structure, relationships, friendships, gender. Appreciating Sumney takes a degree of initial patience. His songs aren’t emotional, they are emotions; nothing here is casually felt or observed. Sumney’s soulful falsetto resembles Prince, who was so adept at using his voice to build frenzy. But with Sumney, the frenzy never comes. Instead the backings are lush and varied, as are the collaborators – Oneohtrix, Thundercat, Shabaka Hutchings, James Blake, even writer Michael Chabon. All help Sumney get lost in his music again and again. On the video of the sparse “Polly,” a faded love tale (“You love dancin’ with me/ Or you just love dancin’”), instead of lip-synching, as the lyrics implore “See Me,” Sumney stares into the camera and weeps. If this sounds overly serious, yeah, it can be. But there is humor, too. Repeated listens let the subtleties unspool. It’s almost impossible to believe such heart on your sleeve emotions can exist in today’s world. Sumney conjures up another time and space, one that may have only previously existed in his mind. If you’re looking for a way to escape, look no further.
Purchase græ HERE
Photo courtesy of Kandace Springs
Kandace Springs — The Women Who Raised Me (Blue Note)
Of the surprising number of jazz albums released every month, many of them are from female vocalists. Among these, Nashville native Kandace Springs’ The Women Who Raised Me stands out. Her third album is a set of covers that pays tribute to the singers who have “raised” Springs artistically and have been influential to the 31-year-old’s career. Part of Springs’ appeal is her uncanny ability to meld classic jazz singing with more modern soul and R&B stylings. It’s not surprising to hear Springs cover signature tunes of Billie Holiday (“Solitude”), Nina Simone (“I Put a Spell On You”), Roberta Flack (“Killing Me Softly With His Song”) and even Bonnie Raitt (“I Can’t Make You Love Me”). Springs gives this familiar material a unique stamp. Astrud Gilberto sang “Gentle Rain” as a lilting samba, but Springs imbues a subtle blues feeling, adding gospel chords on piano. She closes the album with a minimalist “Strange Fruit,” just her on electric piano for an ethereal take of Holiday’s far bleaker original. Better still is “Angel Eyes,” maybe the most recorded of any song here. Joining her for this soulful duet is Norah Jones, who also provides her delicate, understated piano accompaniment. Springs, however, works the eighty-eight keys on the rest of the album, joined by top-shelf players including guitarist Steve Cardenas, bassist Scott Coley, and drummer Clarence Penn. All told, this is an album certain to raise your spirits.
– Jay Trachtenberg
Purchase The Women Who Raised Me HERE
Photo by Lee-Roy Jason
Shabaka & The Ancestors — We Are Sent Here By History (Impulse!)
UK tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings might be the best known of the young players in London’s thriving West End jazz scene. He currently fronts three bands, the cheesy rock trio The Comet Is Coming, the Afro-Caribbean Sons of Kemet, and a project more deeply felt, a group of South African musicians called the Ancestors. Returning to Johannesburg to reconvene the group he first recorded with in 2016, Hutchings and company reach for a spiritual ferocity akin to Albert Ayler or late-period Coltrane. Yet Hutchings learned his instrument playing along to Nas records. As a result, he learns into the rhythm and occasionally runs low on improvisational steam. Compositions are based on the lyrics of the griot tradition (oral storytelling), and the best moments here feel as if something of import is being passed on. The meditative “Go My Heart, Go To Heaven” summons its power from Hutchings and band laying back. The opposite happens on the slow-building and ultimately hair-raising “The Coming of the Strange Ones”. For the most part, though, Hutchings, conversing with alto player Mthunzi Mvubu, finds a soulful restraint. The overall vibe is absorbing. Released in February, all tour plans have been put off. Until then, the power of History is something to behold.
– Jeff McCord
Purchase We Are Sent Here By History HERE
Photo taken at SXSW 2017 by KUTX
Little Simz — Drop 6 EP (Age 101)
She hasn’t scored a breakthrough hit, but 2019’s Grey Area garnered a Mercury prize nomination and pointed the needle skyward for Little Simz (Simbi Ajikawo). Yet this UK rapper and actor now finds herself on pause. Returning to her Drop series of mixtapes, Drop 6 is the sound of an artist in isolation. Home alone, Simz powered through her anxieties (and her neighbor’s complaints about the bass) to craft a spare, industrial sound as akin to Joy Division as her hip-hop contemporaries. There’s little adorning her freestyling verse, just funky, propelled bass lines and hammer on anvil percussion. The pandemic hangs over the material. “Crabs in a barrel, we all in this” she says on “You Should Call Mum”. “Where’s My Lighter” is a lament for a career interrupted. But Simz isn’t navel-gazing. With fierce braggadocio, she’s determined to rise above her situation. She states the theme on the opener, “Might Bang, Might Not”. “I am the force that we speak of / What’s a wave to a tsunami?” “One Life, Might Live” is the EP’s standout, an internal battle against self-doubt, set to an unstoppable groove. “Say you’re born to do this, but you ain’t got what it takes / Damn sure innit, every ting vivid / I got one life and might just live it.”
– Jeff McCord