Moses Sumney: Aromanticism review – a single-minded star

The choirboy turned soul singer rejects coupledom on his gorgeous, genre-spurning debut

Loneliness is a recurrent ache in pop music; the diagnosis is normally heartbreak, unrequited love or loss. Moses Sumney has a slightly different take on what is drily termed “aromanticism” – an imperviousness to coupling up. Born of exacting self-scrutiny, it is bolstered by 70s soul, Greek myth and what sounds like a personal phalanx of angels that routinely dive bombs this gorgeously crafted album.

We’re not all destined to be completed by some special someone, the LA musician seems to conclude. That the swooning, layered backing vocals on many of these 11 tracks turn out to be just Sumney, multi-tracked, underscore his exquisite isolation.

Having reached a wider audience thanks to his guest spot on Solange’s A Seat at the Table album, Sumney is now taking his own stool at music’s countertop with a genre-resistant debut that juxtaposes guitars with harp sounds and electronic production. It recalls the delicacy of Anohni’s first album while sounding like little else – our own Sampha covering Tim Buckley’s Song to the Siren, maybe.

Of course, the boy has some company. Jazz outlier Thundercat guests on bass, as does Paris Strother from King; Matt Otto, previously half of Majical Cloudz, helps out with production.

Watch the video for Indulge Me.

And Sumney has had sleepovers. “All my old lovers have found others,” he notes on the spare, guitar-driven folk-soul of Indulge Me. Another fantasia finds a finger-clicking Sumney declaring: “I’m not trying to go to bed with ya/I just wanna make out in my car.” Discreet panting, a jazz flute and fruity strings mark the tryst (Make Out in My Car).

Sometimes, Sumney considers, love founders on circumstance, or worse. A key track, the expansive Quarrel, is all low-key shimmies and pops, harps and muted horns – and prejudice. “Don’t call it a lovers’ quarrel,” demands Sumney. “We cannot be lovers/Cos I am the other.” As though to underline the point, the final two minutes unfurl into spacey soul and restless jazz.

Sometimes, in our culture, being resistant to happily-ever-after seems akin to blasphemy. The pivotal track, Doomed, finds Sumney wondering: “If lovelessness is godlessness/Will you cast me to the wayside?” This time, the cavalry of angels doesn’t arrive; it’s just Sumney’s quaver and a little thrumming synth in the background. A riveting moment later, he is excommunicating himself. “Well, I feel the peeling/Of half-painted ceilings/Reveal the covering of a blank sky.”

Sumney has described the album as “a sonic dreamscape” and if Aromanticism has a tiny drawback, it is an over-reliance on beauty. This former choirboy has a truly celestial falsetto, but he underuses his lower register. Plastic – included here, but originally released in 2014 – finds Sumney sliding assuredly down the octaves on a single vocal line. This album packs so much succour; only once – on Lonely World – are the virtuoso musicians he has assembled allowed to express any tension. The unexpected percussion hammers down like rain.


Kitty Empire

The GuardianTramp

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