Moses Sumney – Græ Album Review

Jagjaguwar – 2020

Indie favourite American singer-songwriter Moses Sumney returns with one of the most highly anticipated albums of 2020. The follow up 2017’s critically acclaimed ‘Aromanticism’ lets Sumney showcase every aspect of his musical talent. Fusing elements of soul, jazz and pop, ‘Græ’ sees Sumney embrace the deepest parts of his being to create a genre-defying ‘græ area’ of music. Released over 2 parts, with the first coming in February to allow listeners to digest its compact track-list and and now the second. Coming together to create the full ‘Græ’ experience.

The soulful side of Sumney’s sound kick off the album with the graceful ‘Cut Me’. With its lazy Sunday morning horn and Herbie Hancock-esque bass line its a slow introduction into Sumney’s expansive sound. It progresses through different movements of harmonies and spaced out synthesisers to ease you into the album, a teaser of what is to come. And the laid back approach continues into the track ‘In Bloom’. The most ‘chill-indie’ track on the album, with the instrumentation basking in the style of a Rex Orange County song. It’s perhaps the least progressive and sonically cautious track on the album, compared with some of the later experimentation and sonic palettes.

This album is laced with power and grandiose, and this comes through in full strength on the 4 track run of ‘Virile’, ‘Conveyor’, ‘Gagarin’ and ‘Colouour’. The almost movie soundtrack-like feel of ‘Virile’ exploring themes of toxic masculinity through the hard hitting beats and chord punches and potent lyrics. “You wanna fit right in, Amp up the masculine, You’ve got the wrong idea, son”. It showcases the power that Sumney can bring to his songwriting, expanding away from his soulful beginnings, and allows his high octane vocal performance to shine through. It then transitions into the glitchy beats of ‘Conveyor’, which moves through phases of scatty horn hits and spacey guitar chords. It has a robust marching movement to it, as Sumney is about to embark on a journey of introspection. It’s also a platform for showcasing some of the vibrant production on this album. The harmonies of vocals and instruments flourish with each other without crowding one another out. The more jazzy side of Sumney’s sound comes out on ‘Gagarin’ and ‘Colouour’. With Gagarin’s lounge room on a spaceship vibe, gently playing over the robotic pitched down vocals, it moves the album into a new otherworldly direction, topped by layers of deep chanting harmonies. Then to the fanfare horns and saxophone flourishes on ‘Colouour’, which then transitions back to the earlier space-driven aesthetic. Although this track is exploratory in soundscape it doesn’t progress greatly over its 3 minute run, compared to earlier musical crusades.

I’ve talked about it already, and will again but Sumney’s soulful voice is the true driving force of this album. He displays resounding control over the way his voices moves from song to song and can shift from the passioned calling of the falsetto vocals to the modest front of his baritone. Like the romanced induced track ‘Neither/ Nor’ which shifts from a passioned singer-songwriter like vocal tone to Sumney’s signature falsetto. It’s got the power filled harmonies of a Weyes Blood track, with the almost Mariah Carey like high hitting chorus punches, all whilst allowing the latino guitars to groove the track along. And the track ‘Me In 20 Years’ encompasses some big gospel energy. Through the driving chorus lines of “And I wonder how I’ll sleep at night, With a cavity right by my side, And nothing left to hold but pride of mine” Sumney’s vocal power resonates with a haunting performance that seeps in raw passion and longing.

The 20 track run can at times seem dense and daunting with so much sonic exploration packed in. But there are moments that allow you to breath through, whilst still bringing more depth to the album. These come in the form of the interlude tracks like ‘boxes’, ‘jill/ jack’ and ‘also also also and and and and’. Bringing in sampled voices of stories, about the black experience, masculinity or lost love. Allowing the stories told within the songs surrounding them to become real, almost as if you’re hearing a different persons perspective on them.

An album full of beauty and honesty, which is shown in full colours on the final quarter of the album. The instruments may be at times sparser, but the passion within them is stronger than ever. Truthful with emotion and passion of life; from the raw and honest ‘Keeps Me Alive’ to the grateful on ‘Lucky Me’ Sumney showcases his storytelling prowess. Guided by his ever passionate voice, he allows the stories to be told without always needing the grand big instrument backing; only bringing it in to expand on an emotion. Like the slow string build in ‘Lucky Me’, allowing the line “So go on pretend, so go on again” to become prominent in it’s placing. And the penultimate bow out ‘Bless Me’ only builds on this. “So bless me before you go, you’re going nowhere with me”. This sound of letting it go, to allow yourself and the other person to be free become almost gospel-like as this line is repeated whilst bringing in greater levels of harmonies to reach an almost euphoric climax.

The journey and experimentation of sound within this album is to be marvelled at with no aspect of the sonic spectrum left untouched. There’s so much energy, passion and raw talent that it deserves to not just be categorised within a predetermined genre, but one of its own. A new Græ area of music that at the moment Sumney is the only inhabitant of.

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