Moses Sumney’s græ: Unpacked

Moses Sumney is the kind of artist who delights in confounding categories. As the California-bred, Asheville, NC-based singer/songwriter recently told Rolling Stone, “When I was conceptualizing as a teenager what kind of artist I wanted to be, I knew I wanted to be soul and folk. Of course, then I grew up, and I was like, ‘Ooh, now I want to do some rock, and indie, and experimental, and jazz, and blah, blah, blah.’ And then I was like, ‘Wait, why do we have labels? Whatever!’”

Whereas his 2017 debut, Aromanticism, inspired many critics to put him at the forefront of a wave of artists redefining R&B, his wildly ambitious follow-up puts him deeper into his own personal gray area—or, to use the new album’s appropriately amorphous title, his area of græ.

The 20-track magnum opus finds him exploring a vast array of musical modes and lyrical themes with uncommon deftness, sensitivity, and imagination. A powerful and beguiling statement of purpose, græ simultaneously confirms Sumney’s uniqueness as an artist and contains pathways to the vast wealth of music that helped form that sensibility. Traces of early heroes like Stevie Wonder, Arthur Russell, and Sufjan Stevens are just as discernible in his sumptuous and spacious songs as the close study he paid to early-’00s masterstrokes by Beyoncé and Justin Timberlake. What’s more, his savvy choices of collaborators on græ—James Blake, Thundercat, Mac DeMarco, and Daniel Lopatin just for starters—are highly suggestive of the kinship he feels with many other contemporary acts operating across the span of electronic music, jazz, indie pop, and oh so much more. Recent collaborations and other points of connection that fill out this playlist makes Sumney’s intentions seem nowhere near as hazy as his music may be.

Photo by Alexander Black