Moses Sumney - Aromanticism
Moses Sumney’s Debut Aromanticism is Already Timeless
Moses Sumney’s voice is the rudder of his music. Often doubling as an instrument itself, his voice shapeshifts between raspiness and falsetto, guiding the swells of his music. On his debut album, Aromanticism, Sumney navigates deftly between themes of longing and unanswered questions.
After a harmonizing choir introduces the album, “Don’t Bother Calling” begins to showcase Sumney’s vocal talents. Initially briefly shrouded in a muddled vocal filter, his voice emerges and gradually rises higher in Sumney’s register as the song progresses. String instruments complement his voice, making it the centerpiece of the song.
When there are quieter moments, the negative space feels almost tangible. While there is a lot going on musically with his songs, the more serene moments in Sumney’s music emphasize those intangible feelings that we are not quite able to put into words.
“Plastic” features the acoustic guitar in tandem with Sumney’s voice as the focal point of the song. As he strums his guitar, he repeats the line: “My wings are made of plastic.” While the hook on “Plastic” can come across as tiring at first, it becomes entrancing after the third or fourth time it is sung, drawing the listener in, causing them to question its meaning. An apparent reference to the Greek myth of Icarus, it takes on different colors as it is repeated, with Sumney’s voice rising and falling alongside grainy violins that sound like they would perfectly in a 1950s film score. This sense of timelessness is what makes Sumney’s music so special. He manages to blend his musical influences into a brand of songwriting that is immediately recognizable as his own.
Easily one of the most varied songs from Aromanticism, “Quarrel” starts off quietly with some vocal harmonizing on the part of Sumney. The song blossoms into an odyssey of orchestra, drum machine and solo piano. The musical references to funk and psychedelic jazz later on in the song are reminiscent of Sumney’s L.A. contemporaries Thundercat and Kamasi Washington.
Sumney references Jericho on this song, one of the many religious references scattered throughout the album. Sumney’s parents were pastors, so it seems that these references were deeply ingrained in him since his childhood.
Spoken word is used to transition between songs on this album on two occasions: from “Stoicism” to “Lonely World” and from “The Cocoon-Eyed Baby” to “Doomed.” Unexplained phrases like “My mom would drop me off in our family's second-hand Mitsubishi caravan” and “We scrawl / Unwritten law of the land / On scroll that’s rolled up and rolled in / The cocoon-eyed baby's / Swollen, clenched hand” add an air of mystery to each song they precede.
The set-up for “Lonely World” that “Stoicism’” provides is brilliant: it sounds as if Sumney is walking to his car at night, accompanied by the noise of keys jangling and insects chirping, all the while quietly humming the intro to “Lonely World” to himself. The humming and guitar strumming helps the song transition seamlessly into “Lonely World,” a fiery, complex song. The song initially has the darker atmosphere of an older country song, incorporating elements of lonesomeness with quiet guitar picking. An unmistakable feeling of something ancient permeates this song as Sumney utters lines like: “And the void speaks to you / In ways nobody speaks to you / And that voice fills the air / Fog in the morning going nowhere.”
The songs “Make Out in My Car” and “Doomed” feel dense, almost as if you could swim deep within them. “Doomed” in particular is achingly beautiful, a real standout later in the album. His voice pivots while he says, “If lovelessness is godlessness / Will you cast me to the wayside?” A sense of weariness seems to fill him from all his unanswered questions. A true slow-burner, “Doomed” grows all the more devastating as it progresses. This is the point in Aromanticism when the listener feels that they are almost in the same room as Sumney given how poignant this song is.
Unfortunately, the final two songs of the album don’t leave as great an impression as “Doomed” does. While their simplicity is calming, it would’ve been nice to finish the album on a more memorable note. The final song does end on a more mysterious note, though. After some wordless vocal flourishes, Sumney finishes the album accompanied by several distant voices that deliver the final words of the album: “Imagine being free / Imagine tasting free / Imagine feeling free / Imagine feeling.”
On his debut, Sumney explores many different colorful sounds and vocal styles, all the while grounded by the power of the human voice. Aromanticism is an incredible effort by an equally as incredible songwriter and musician.