In an introductory letter posted on his website, Moses Sumney, the twenty-six-year-old purveyor of electro-soul, calls the songs on his latest EP “dirges in the face of a relentless sun.” The themes of Lamentations, which consists of tracks that didn’t make it onto his forthcoming album, are accordingly bleak. But fortunately for us, Sumney isn’t all Cormac McCarthy; his morose lyrics are tempered by the pure grace of his voice.
My best bud from back home introduced me to Moses Sumney a few years ago. He, a saxophonist, heard of Sumney through jazz circles, back when the singer’s shtick was limited to live vocal looping and effects pedals. To hear Sumney now is to hear the latest trends in electro-R&B––just as Justin Vernon, James Blake, and Frank Ocean have recently done, Sumney adopts the Vocoder in the studio to separate the singer from his distorted voice. The effect elevates Sumney’s svelte falsetto from a luxuriant, yet tried sound, to a sui generis reverberation––more crystalline than that of the aforementioned singers––that floats alone, often indecipherable, towards the depths of the listener’s body.
My favorite song off of Lamentations is “Worth It.” It’s three transient minutes of sparse, syncopated snaps and drums framing Sumney’s modulated voice. Voice and beat are all Sumney needs to create music that bleeds sorrow. In the opening lines, he recognizes his “heart as black and blue,” and in the chorus he wonders, in aching crescendos, if he is deserving of his lover’s unwavering devotion: “I don’t know if I am worth it.” The song’s video, released in late August, is one of the best I’ve ever seen, translating the power of Sumney’s voice into jolting muscles and deep shadows.
The EP’s closing track, “Incantation,” is a prayer chanted in Hebrew; deviation clearly doesn’t bother Sumney, and neither does melodrama. In that same letter on his site, he asks, “Is there implied hope encapsulated in the mere expression of hopelessness?” Sumney concludes, “That isn’t for me to determine. I’m just here to lament.” I don’t have the answer to his depressive musings either, but I do find joy in their expression. Sumney’s bared soul translates into beautiful music, and I’m thrilled he is putting more of it out.