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Moses Sumney
Aromanticism The Quietus , October 5th, 2017 14:06

The Californian singer takes an ethereal journey into solitude on his new album. By Alice Kemp-Habib.

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. Sumney’s quivering vocals, akin to Lianne La Havas on 'Lost & Found', cascade downwards, slipping in and out of his natural range. He sings: “If lovelessness is godlessness / Will you cast me to the wayside? / Well, I feel the peeling of half-painted ceilings / Reveal the covering of a blank sky.” The running theme of solitude is at its most poignant here thanks to the song’s stark composition. Sumney’s lone voice sails atop a gradually building synth. Unlike the rest of the album, where Sumney layers his own vocals to choral affect, 'Doomed' is lavishly unembellished.

Elsewhere on the 11-track album, tumbling ad libs, fingerstyle guitar and harp sounds create an ethereal ambience. A guest appearance from Thundercat towards the end of 'Lonely World' is a highlight: the song builds into a frenetic mass of horns, harmonies and bass before abruptly retracting into Sumney’s whispers of “lonely, lonely, lonely”.

Aromanticism, as the title suggests, is supposed to counter music’s obsession with romantic love. As the singer wrote in a pre-album essay released on Twitter, this record “seeks to interrogate the idea that romance is normative and necessary.” The album tracks Sumney struggling with and eventually accepting his own disinterest in conventional relationships.

This themes of loneliness and romance have been consistent in Sumney’s work since his 2014 EP, Mid-City Island. On that record's 'Man on the Moon' he expressed similar worries to those on 'Doomed' here: “I used to say I love to stay alone / Now the lights are never bright when I get home / A soul cannot be whole if only rogue / Can a vagrant body be celestial?”. Aided by intricate vocal layering, another staple feature of his work, the singer-songwriter creates an all-encompassing sense of seclusion. Whether it’s the effervescent jazz interlude at the end of 'Quarrel', or the drawn-out tension in Sumney’s voice, it’s undeniable that Aromanticism is a deeply sensual listen.

Moving away from the intentionally lo-fi production of his earlier output has allowed for a fresh intensity in Sumney’s music. He is an exceptional example of an artist who has continuously honed and developed his sound, while staying true to its essence. Profound, passionate and at times mournful he remains. Aromanticism is an exquisitely well-crafted piece of work, which retains a delicate complexity despite its minimalism.

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