Release Date: Sep 22, 2017
Record label: Jagjaguwar
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Ahead of the release of his debut album, Moses Sumney posted a “prose-poem essay” on Twitter. Titled ‘Break Up Letter’, it outlines the artist’s thoughts on love and lovelessness, themes that form the core of his debut album Aromanticism. In it, Moses considers mythological tales of the origin of love and questions whether our fear of loneliness and desire for love is inherent in our cellular makeup or something that is inherited through societal forces.
If hard work is the key to success, then patience is the carabiner that keeps it from being misplaced along the way. It’s about bolstering passion when it flows through you, then breathing deeply and evenly so as to not misrepresent it, taking your time with what at one point felt urgent and immediate. When an artist can be an editor as well as a creator, they know how to shave their piece and fine-tune its inner workings until it stands as a piece of art as well as a message too deep to be encapsulated.
African-American writer and activist Langston Hughes penned these unsentimental lyrics in 1946: “The night for me is not romantic/Unhook the stars and take them down.” On Moses Sumney’s full-length debut, the art-soul singer-songwriter taps into the enduring resonance of Hughes’ blues melancholy. What does it mean to never experience romantic love in a world so structured by the need for it? Alongside other post-Arthur Russell auteurs like Arca or Perfume Genius, Sumney’s got a jones for drifty, slo-mo songcraft and ambient production. Across a couple of EPs, including last year’s Lamentations, he’s explored these drifting, spare environments while distinguishing himself with his austere guitar arrangements and performances.
Loneliness is a recurrent ache in pop music; the diagnosis is normally heartbreak, unrequited love or loss. Moses Sumney has a slightly different take on what is drily termed “aromanticism” – an imperviousness to coupling up. Born of exacting self-scrutiny, it is bolstered by 70s soul, Greek myth and what sounds like a personal phalanx of angels that routinely dive bombs this gorgeously crafted album. We’re not all destined to be completed by some special someone, the LA musician seems to conclude.
On the cover of Moses Sumney's long-awaited debut full-length album Aromanticism, Sumney is levitating about a foot off the ground; his head is not visible. Given that his hands are clasped behind his back in tangled prayer, perhaps Sumney's head is bowed. Or maybe it's floating high above the clouds, providing Sumney with a perspective that prayer does not offer.
From assumptions like this, taken from his “prose-poem essay”, it would be easy to see LA-based Moses Sumney’s debut album as pretentious. A concept record with a heavily philosophical and Biblical story behind it, Aromanticism comes from a musician who has worked with Solange Knowles, and toured with James Blake and Sufjan Stevens. Unsurprisingly, it is filled with an impressive list of collaborators – Thundercat, Rob Moose, Paris Strother of KING, and Matthew Otto of Majical Cloudz. But Aromanticism is not just a record of big ideas: it’s a brave album furnished with heartfelt intent, and the musicality to pull it off.
Moses Sumney’s voice lingers somewhere between dream and reality, then gently melts into your subconscious. On first listen the subject matter of his debut album, Aromaticism, completely evaded me as his vocals took centrestage. A controlled falsetto renders the rare moment when we hear his lower register all the more delightful. ‘Doomed’, originally released in 2016, is one of these moments.
Though he’d already established his vitality as a songwriter, Moses Sumney truly hit a new benchmark in 2016 with the transformative “Lonely World.” It’s self-actualization in five minutes: Sumney’s falsetto sits in guitar-cradled solemnity before the kick drum cracks the darkness a minute-and-a-half through. The preciousness gradually peels away, and the song climaxes as reverberating chirps encircle his voice, a levitating coo, while the percussion grows spasmodic. It’s the sound of earthy lamentation willing its way into the firmament.