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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Gospel for a New Century": organized anxious chaos

I got hooked on Yves Tumor's sound from this track alone and the complex internal war it captures.

This is my last Senior Year Soundtrack entry before class starts up again, as UC Berkeley's spring semester begins tomorrow (by the time this is likely being read, today) at 11 AM... and I don't feel great about that for multiple reasons.

Firstly, the semester is beginning online, with the first two weeks of classes taking place on Zoom. As I've learned the hard way from ~2 1/3 semesters of Zoom learning, my level of concentration massively dips when I'm not in person. It's so easy to be distracted when learning virtually, especially at home, and I can't afford that in my final undergraduate semester. Secondly, I'm unable to shake the idea that I'll be online longer than the two weeks the University is currently saying. All I can think of is how they said two weeks back when this all started about 22 months ago...

Hopefully, those fears will go away soon, but for now, they augment my anxiety surrounding class and the rest of my life. In selecting a song for today, I opted for a track that I hear as sonically reflecting said anxiety: Yves Tumor's "Gospel for a New Century," one of the most fascinating singles of the 2020s rock world. From a Korean funk sample to a chaotic horn chord and a thunderous chorus, it's something you can really move along with, but it also has so many elements doing battle with one another that the piece gives off a combative aura.

From first listen, "Gospel for a New Century" amazed me by just how many different instruments and elements it contains, and how they somehow all work together. As a trombonist, my attention is firstly drawn to the horn arrangements, which begin with a trumpet sample from a Korean funk track called, according to translations, "당신은 무얼 몰라" ("You Don't Know") by 이송아 (Lee Son Ga). Yves Tumor (real name Sean Bowie) has a plethora of eclectic sample choices throughout their catalog, and the Korean selection on "Gospel for a New Century" is no different. (In fact, there's a greater East Asian influence through the track through its name being a variation on the translated name for the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion, which makes me wonder if he had an overarching idea of the track being informed by those cultures... but I digress.)

After a big trombone-like hit, which may also come from the Korean sample, the saxophone line is introduced. The sax work was all recorded in-studio by Sylvain Carton, who also contributed flute and clarinet to the track. His work is filtered and set behind Gina Ramirez's very forward P-bass, but is still undeniable the lead part of the section. The lines have a bluesy swagger to them — and then the big chord hits.

That saxophone chord is nothing short of cataclysmic. It's anchored by a mid-range note, but the explosion of the higher cluster is discordant to a point that it nearly rips apart the song... and that's awesome. Tumor and co-producers Justin Raisen and Yves Rothman get the value of dissonance like a lot of contemporary artists don't. Sure, in the more basic sense some chords are dissonant and lead back to a certain place, but the musical cycle of tension and release isn't that simple. True, note-clashing dissonances — minor seconds, minor ninths, tritones (all of which can be heard in that one chord) — can be so powerful when placed in a context that gives those sounds space to take over. The clearing out of the arrangement gives Carton's sax chord that space, and combined with its placement at the end of the phrase, the chord gives off a sense that a world-balancing conflict is coming to a head.

Tumor's lyrics are an anxiety-ridden tale of a strained if not lost romantic connection. Coming from the massive saxophone chord, the verse, with its summery guitar behind the vocals, arrives like a reverie, a flashback to simpler times when the connection for which Tumor now longs was present and flourishing. Even in this dreamlike state, however, they can't shake their worries and their desire to get back to the way things were. The lyrics start with a confident statement of control — "I think I can solve it / I can be your all, ain't no problem, baby" — but by the verse's end, it's clear that control was just a dream, never real. Tumor wants to be there for their partner, but circumstances beyond their reach ("this ain't by design") have gotten in the way. This revelation gives way to an explosive chorus, from which point it's clear that the calmer state of the verse is now unattainable. Carton's sax work returns, made even heavier by two guitars and Tumor's full-force singing. As they plead for their flame to "[t]ake it softer," they can't do the same, and all they can ultimately ask is "How much longer 'til December?" Maybe the end of the year — a long way away when the track was released in February 2020 — could offer some respite the current temporal framing couldn't... or maybe they just want to flip the page and completely move on.

"Gospel for a New Century" is so much more than I've described it here, but if I had to quickly sum it up, it's horn-laden, boundary-pushing, funky neo-psychedelic rock that is nothing like I've heard on any band of airwaves, especially in terms of 2020s music. As the lead single and opening track off Tumor's most recent full-length album, Heaven to a Tortured Mind, it's a window into a fascinating sonic world that I hope will inspire other artists to likewise push boundaries in order to tell their unique stories. As it pertains to my anxiety surrounding my re-emerging academic stressors, its sound encapsulates it better than any other production I've heard in a long time. My situation "ain't by design," but I've got to tackle it head-on. As we say at Cal: Go Bears!

Check out Yves Tumor on Bandcamp, where you can listen to and purchase "Gospel for a New Century," Heaven to a Tortured Mind, and the rest of their output — including their 2021 EP The Asymptotical World — while directly supporting them.


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