Moses Sumney yearns for greatness. You sense that he’s constantly striving for excellence, and with his stunning vocal range and stylistic diversity, greatness is more attainable for Sumney than for most. On græ, his second studio album, he is always aching; emotionally vulnerable and creatively restless. The record plays out like a prolonged stream of consciousness, yet every aspect seems carefully constructed. The attention to detail is remarkable. For all its brave moments, there’s a layer of confidence to græ that works wonderfully with Sumney’s candid lyrical content. Some songs feel more substantial than others, with a handful of cuts feeling slightly underwritten. Even so, you cannot fault the ambition or scope of the music. This is essentially a sprawling mood-piece that lays bare the wide range of human emotions. It’s beautiful, complex, and flawed. Just like all of us.
The spirit and tone of græ captures a similar space to that of Frank Ocean’s Blonde, though this is far richer. It travels through the realms of folk, jazz, rock, and certain strands of electronica, yet still manages to retain its own character. As an overall listening experience, it’s intense. Though some songs are more refined than others, the general sensation rarely leaves. This is helped largely by Sumney’s astonishing vocal performances, which are, at times, beyond breathtaking. I can only describe his voice as some beautiful amalgamation of Prince, Jeff Buckley, and Thom Yorke. With the added assistance of Oneohtrix Point Never, Thundercat, James Blake, and a whole host of others, Sumney reaches special heights on græ. It’s certainly not perfect, but truth be told, I’m still trying to work the whole thing out. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the most genuine and honest records I’ve heard in quite some time. Regardless of whether or not it’s the masterpiece that Sumney has been longing for, græ is a striking statement. Vulnerability has rarely felt so beautiful.8 10
Favourite tracks // Me in 20 Years
Where to start with græ. It’s like a melting renaissance painting in sonic form – meticulous and magnificent and mind-bendingly warped. It’s an endless current of rippling electronica and I don’t fully know what to make of it. It’s beautiful, but at times feels too big for its own good. You have to stand quite a ways back to fully appreciate what’s going on.
The album is nothing if not bold, and that’s reason enough to like it plenty. The complexity of its arrangements are at times breathtaking, and the collaborations are always tasteful and appropriate. Thundercat is here, because of course he is. Moses Sumney’s voice is an instrument all of its own, tender yet mighty. Imagine what Thom Yorke with steroids and a few hallucinogens in his belly and you’re about there.
It’s always a tall order for double albums to earn their length, and græ is no different. Listening to it feels like sitting through an electronic symphony in twenty movements – as exhausting as it is exhilarating. Even if you can’t sit with your back straight all the way through græ is unlikely to disappoint.7 10
Favourite tracks // Virile
Me in 20 Years
Coming off the back of his critically acclaimed debut, Moses Sumney could’ve given us more of the same and moved along. Instead, græ is far grander in scale and scope than Aromanticism and the pay off is worthwhile.
First things first, Sumney’s awesome vocals are still centre stage here. Climbing to heady heights in the likes of “Two Dogs” and “Keeps Me Alive”, if you enjoyed his previous work, you’ll find a lot to love in this release. But look to “Virile” or “Colouour” and you’ll find a soulful, melodic vocal that explores the lower registers of his voice. Elsewhere, you’ll find lush, beautiful backing vocals in tracks including “Neither/Nor”, where a chorus of vocals wraps around the listener, or “Bless Me” where backing vocals just fill out his vocal subtly. Further experimentation in “Conveyer” with some glitchy, electronica-flavoured vocal sample percussion shows Moses stretching in all directions.
Instrumentally, græ borders on eclectic. On boomerang listens I’ve heard colours of Lianne La Havas, Björk, and Frank Ocean. Towards the end of the first side, there’s a lovely picked guitar that runs throughout “Neither/Nor” and “Polly” while much of the third quarter of the tracklist is filled with subby, electronic timbres. At its core, however, there’s a strong soul and jazz base holding this album up. All of this together makes for a grand and, sometimes even overwhelming, listen.
Adding to the production further, vocal interludes line the whole sixty-five-minute playtime, these mainly revolve around spoken word from Jill Scott and Taiye Selasi, and, despite their length, add another dimension to the album. Each interlude features powerful prose and instrumentals more experimental and jazz-infused than the rest of the album. Jill Scott’s “jill/jack” and Taiye Selasi “also also also and and and” are both short, but feature beautiful instrumentals to back them, each moody and ethereal.
Overall, Sumney has released a mammoth production, mixing analogue and electronic elements, exploring his style further and wrapping the package up in smooth transitions that allow each track to smoothly flow from one to another. One of the best examples also includes my very favourite eight minutes from the album, as “Bystanders” and “Me in 20 Years” sit effortlessly next to one another. The former is an infinite space of silky synths, with beautiful vocals reaching out into the void, the latter is my album highlight. Reminiscent of Blonde–era Frank Ocean, “Me in 20 Years” showcases Sumney’s vocals beautifully, with an understated, lumbering rhythm section and sparkling, lush synths and warming backing vocals.
With all said and done, græ has made for a thoroughly enjoyable listen. Surpassing the hour mark and being quite so smooth with its transitions does allow it to fall foul of tracks passing the listener by, but when it’s good, this album is wonderful. Arrangements and production are impeccable, especially in the second half which feels a little like a buried lead and a consistent, high quality should leave a listener thoroughly satisfied.
I’m excited for more to come from a relatively new artist, but for now, if you listen to nothing else, listen to “Me in 20 Years”. It’s ace.9 10
Favourite tracks // Me in 20 Years