Singer-songwriter Moses Sumney does not mind flying the freak flag

Moses Sumney from Los Angeles cleaves to his own muse and no one else.
Moses Sumney from Los Angeles cleaves to his own muse and no one else. PHOTO: JAGJAGUWAR

In an unending continuum of gender identities, the aromantic is the misunderstood one. A few minutes of Googling reveals that he is not someone who is incapable of love, but requires no romantic coupling to feel complete.

These folk are not heartless. They do feel platonic love, such as that between a parent and a child, but it does not cross into romantic attachment.

By naming his debut album Aromanticism, Los Angeles newcomer Moses Sumney thus sends a strong signal that he is not an archetypal soul crooner destined to wax lyrical about a paramour as if his universe depends on it.

It is a gorgeous rebuke to the obsessive-compulsive disorder of the world to pander to the need for everyone to couple up, to feel unfulfilled and abysmally depressed if that special one has not materialised.

"If lovelessness is godlessness/ Will you cast me to the wayside?" he asks in a lissome falsetto which moves in moody synth waters. It is a powerfully controlled movement as the singer asks: "Am I vital/If my heart is idle?" There is no relief.

It is an exquisite suspension between self-love and communal endorsement that may or may not come.



    Moses Sumney


    4/5 stars

In that respect, Sumney, who has worked with Solange and Sufjan Stevens, has much in common with outliers such as Englishman Benjamin Clementine, a balladeer who also cleaves to his own muse and no one else.

Sumney's singular vision and, indeed, supple way of communication can be espied in Don't Bother Calling, a folksy, bluesy exercise in existentialism.

His falsetto floats above, as if his entire essence is encapsulated in it. The gentle flecks of guitar caress wave after synth wave.

"Trust in me, I am the son of the sea/And I'll call you when I feel finally free," he sings. When he lowers his voice midway, his tenor rings clear and true: "Don't bother calling, I'll call you."

More often than not, his voice becomes just that, a sinewy creature stripped of audible meaning, and you cannot quite make out what it is on about, but still absolutely understand every tug and pull.

He can coo, like in the almost breathless, strummy, jazzy Indulge Me, hovering between a soft manliness and a Macy Gray-esque rasp.

Still, his vocal delicacy recalls one of the under-appreciated subtlety of someone else like Lianne La Havas; but while La Havas resolutely stays in the classy lane, Sumney does not mind flying the freak flag whenever it warrants. He swoons, but is also wont to venture into Lynchian terrain.

Listen to the strangely beautiful confession Plastic. "I know what it is to be broken and bold," he begins, accompanied by a peppering of electric riffs and atmospheric synths.

That switchback between a near-guttural "swell and swollen" and a quickly ascending "And you caught me" is genius. He is an amalgam of organic and manmade, a plastic-man, if you like.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2017, with the headline Singer-songwriter Moses Sumney does not mind flying the freak flag. Subscribe