Following his exceptional breakout album Aromanticism a couple of years ago, Moses Sumney returns with a hugely ambitious double LP. græ sees the Ghanaian-American in the same kind of shape-shifting sonic form that won him so many plaudits the first time around, with a massively diverse array of tracks on offer.
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A long roll-out has helped ‘græ’. The new double-album from the monstrously talented Moses Sumney, this record returns consistently to a theme of isolation - the first words spoken on the LP are concerned with the Latin root of the term, a vignette expanded later on for the fittingly-titled interlude ‘and so i come to isolation’. When ‘græ’s first half came out back in February such concerns may have scanned as Sumney’s personal tale, but these things hit different in lockdown.
Sumney’s isolation is diced several ways across ‘græ’. Isolation through gender, sexuality, multiplicity of identity. In ‘græ’s second-half, isolation leads Sumney to profound self-examination, a theme he’s covered previously. As his extraordinary voice arcs to the heavens, his words remain bound to earth, deeply concerned with how to be among other people as a complicated, reflexive person.
The compositional nouse here is first-rate. One can tell that, at every point across ‘græ’, there has been a concerted effort to make a dense and layered record. However, the problem is that, as impressive as this music is, you as a listener can feel slightly ostracised by it. We are given little to grab onto amid the mulchy mixes, and one gets the sense after a few tracks that 'græ' is something to admire rather than experience. Attention to detail can so easily bleed over into obfuscation, and this unfortunately is the default state of ‘græ’s overly-wrought first half.
The album is best when it pulls back. Come the halfway point, Sumney has ceased his cavorting, streamlining his singing and his songcraft. When he is less fidgety, less eager to show off, is when his music becomes most affecting. ‘Polly’ and ‘Neither/Nor’ have a dreamy drift, a settled flow that reads like D’Angelo doing psych-folk, a vibe which continues into ‘græ’s latter stages.
Sumney has the ability to write twilight zone ballads of rare, elemental power. He’s done it before on ‘Doomed’, and he does it again on ‘Bystanders’. An arrangement less crowded than the others here (though it does bloom), Sumney sings powerfully about the contradictions of morality, of wrestling with oneself to do the right thing and all the while be seen. It’s easily a highlight, and the magic of the track carries through to the following space-gospel opus ‘Me In 20 Years’.
The first half scrapes a six, the second gets a strong eight. Thus receives the full ‘græ’ a seven.
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