Moses Sumney Proves That He’s A Master Of Magic
Written by Ayana Contreras on May 19, 2020
It takes a certain sleight of hand to apply theatrical aesthetics to a work without coming off as overstuffed.
With his latest album, græ, Moses Sumney proves that he is already a master of that particular magic.
But I’ve known that for a while.
Last April, I was in New York City for the opening of an arts venue called The Shed. The festivities included performances, and during a rehearsal for one such performance, I sat on a riser and listened to Moses Sumney. That morning, he ran through his rendition of an old spiritual called “We Shall Walk Through the Valley in Peace,” a song that he hasn’t yet recorded (but he did include a version of it on a Spotify playlist he created). At that rehearsal, Moses Sumney’s voice buoyed through the cavernous space, and it pierced my heart with its svelte theatricality. Later that night, I got to dance with him at an after party, and even on that dance floor, sticky with spilled drinks, I relished in the contrasts of that evening.
When I heard græ on May 15th, I wondered how to translate what I was experiencing into text. At first I thought of celebrating the cinematic quality of “Colourour”. How he was able to build so much dynamic range into a 3 minute song, without ever relinquishing a decidedly sexy rollicking groove.
Or maybe I’d mention his decision to include spoken passages both within songs, and as standalone works like “insula” and “and so I come to isolation”, which are akin to narrations of an audio documentary. One, “jill/jack”, is notably voiced by Jill Scott. The spoken word elements ground the record and give it a point of view. And many of them deal with the idea of questioning definitions.
Then, I thought about the lullaby that is “In Bloom”. It’s crushing in all the best ways, and, like the album as a whole, unfolds like nightshade: Full of echoes, luscious strings, and love. It stays with you. “Gagarin” is a stunning, intergalactic ghost story, and “Virile” is a study in contrasts. Brandee Younger’s lovely harp dances alongside angular, staccato drum patterns, reinforcing Moses’ recurring theme of railing against the forced dichotomies of society, and landing squarely at ‘the in-between’. As Moses sings in “Neither/Nor”:
“I fell in love with the in-between
Coloring outside the margins
Yet the romance of the undefined
Was a threatening lie in their eyes”
Ultimately, this is not an album that you can skim, easily define, or ignore. In fact, he tweeted on Sunday, “Sit with records. Give them time and attention.” I couldn’t agree more, especially in the case of græ.