How do you even describe Moses Sumney? There’s something about his sound that borders on the familiar, but feels deeply ethereal. They feel like they’ve always been there, so note perfect and alien but just discovered in this time and place. That’s why his long-anticipated debut album, Aromanticism has come as such a system shock. There’s just nothing to compare it to.
Sumney first turned heads with his 2014 EP, Mid-City Island and it’s follow up, 2016’s Lamentations EP. They were enough to make made fans and friends in Beck (who he covered for the Song Reader project) and Solange, who you can find him covering Nina Simone with in a video in the far reaches of the internet. Friends like those – especially with their auteur sensibilities seemed to have an impact, as Aromanticism feels like a grand artistic statement instead of a collection of songs.
More than a few songs from Sumney’s earlier EP’s appear here on Aromanticism, but they’ve taken a different form – album opener “Man on the Moon” is a reprise from a different track of the same name from Mid-City Island. It’s a rising choir of voices, some his, maybe someone else’s, maybe his pitch shifted? The song is designed to raise more questions than it answers. The song quickly gives way “Don’t Bother Calling,” a showcase for Sumney’s otherworldly falsetto. Through gently picked guitar, he showcases why he’s such a seminal talent. His voice tiptoes between staggering high notes to a low, confident baritone while he sings “You need a solid, but I’m made of liquid.” The irony there is that’s exactly how he sounds.
“Plastic” sounds like it was built on a base of classic jazz – where a simple idea is called out at the beginning of a song and the other musicians build upon it. Here, it’s Sumney’s guitar, but there’s no other musicians. Instead, a bed of soft synths accent it, then strings that bend in the way they do on The Beatles “A Day in the Life,” but only briefly. Sumney sings that his “wings are made of plastic” as lithe backing vocals come through the ether. It’s a perfect example of the sense of space in his work. You can’t help but feel that as he sings about “wings,” that maybe this is what his version of heaven sounds like.
There are songs here that feel purely sensual – not particularly sexual – especially on “Make Out in My Car”. It’s a simple refrain, over and over – “I’m not tryna go to bed with you I just wanna make out in my car” where synth strains continuously round off, before a flute enters the mix. It’s clear here that this song is more of an exercise in saying more with the music than the words he has chosen.
The intrigue of this record lies in choices Moses Sumney has made. On one of the album's best songs, he ponders meaning in his life: “Am I doomed?/Am I vital/if my heart is idle?” It sounds grim early on, until the song’s prominent synth starts to swell, and Sumney seems to find some resolve: “Well, I feel the peeling of half-painted ceilings/Reveal the covering of a blank sky.” That sky is his limit, and if Aromanticism is any indication, whatever comes next for the “man on the moon” has the potential to be purely astral.
- Brendan Hilliard, Obviate Media
This review was written by Brendan Hilliard, of Obviate Media. Obviate Media is a Chicago-based blog covering music and pop culture. Check them out, here: Obviate Media.