As if to acknowledge how long his debut album has been awaited, Moses Sumney opens Aromanticism with a short, sub-40 second sketch of his early single "Man on the Moon." With its heavenly harmonies, all of them provided by Sumney, the piece recalls "Our Prayer," the transcendent vocal swell that opened The Beach Boys' long lost album Smile. Like that album, there are parts of Aromanticism that are achingly familiar, but this feels like the grand statement that Sumney has been aiming to make.
Mixing folk, jazz, soul, and gospel into a brilliant, miasmic whole, Moses Sumney has created thirty-five minutes of music that feels both ageless and thoroughly modern. His compositions indulge in the unexpected, mixing the intoxicating maximalism of orchestral accompaniment and layers of vocal harmonies while simultaneously feeling free floating and stripped back. Sumney's voice, whether soaring high or in its ragged low range, is magnetic and fascinating.
On "Plastic," (also a song several years old re-recorded here with clarity and finesse), Sumney hovers around his high register sounding uncannily like Nina Simone while mellow electric guitar and spectral strings buoy his intimate, playful performance. The single "Quarrel" is one of the most incisive pieces on the record, following "Plastic"'s obtusely resigned refrain ("My wings are made of plastic") with Sumney's brilliantly evocative vision of a relationship's end that doesn't wallow, but simmers and eventually boils over into something approximating hesitant joy soundtracked by harps, brass, and delicate piano.
At the heart of Aromanticism is an examination of the very concept of romance. Sumney questions why loving another person should be seen as compulsory - why any emotional contract between two people should be compulsory. The headless figure on the album's cover is echoed in the searing, climactic "Lonely World": "And the sound of your voice / Flows from your body / White as noise." Inertness and inaction colour his lyrics where others would fill them with emotion, which may make Sumney seem callous and detached, but also echoes with the pain of self-evisceration.
The single "Doomed" may be one of the finest pieces of music of the year. Built on little more than hovering synth drones, Sumney uses his voice to build the song to an unforgettable climax. It's melody is simultaneously crystalline and liquefied. "Am I vital / If my heart is idle?" he asks, his incredible falsetto cracking as if masking a sob. Aromanticism is only a short record, but it contains within it a stunning amount of layers and contours, from the two spoken word interludes, to the note of major key bliss on which it ends.
In rejecting romanticism, Aromanticism taps into a kind of radical self-love, best espoused by the album closer "Self-Help Tape." Over spiralling guitars, Sumney chants and wails with ecstasy, and though actual words are few and far between, the sentiment rings clear: "Imagine being free."
Aromanticism is out on CD, vinyl, and digital formats on Friday September 22nd. Moses Sumney is as part of the 2018 St. Jerome's Laneway Festival.
Artist photo by Ibra Ake.