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Moses Sumney split his second studio album, “græ,” into two parts, releasing the first on Feb. 21 with plans to release the second in May. Sumney’s records are a singular blend of electric, folk, and soul music, consciously synthesized into something entirely unique. The 12 tracks on “græ: Part 1” extend his eclectic combination of genres further than ever before. Altogether, “græ: Part 1” gives listeners a glimpse into Sumney’s musical aura, including his personal musings and artistic expression. Listening to “græ: Part 1” is an entirely visceral experience, imprinting one’s mind with an exploration of identity.
The cover art for “græ: Part 1” depicts a nude Black figure lifting themself out of a plunge pool and onto a boulder as a waterfall cascades in the background. This image can be thought of as a symbol of Sumney’s artistic baptism or rejuvenation. “Cut Me” provides the clearest musical representation of this awakening. Sumney’s imitation of Aretha Franklin in the first lines of this track, invoking the Lydian mode in vocal runs, conjures up the sort of freedom one would imagine he enjoys as he sings in the shower. The song gives listeners the privilege to not only indulge in his liberation, but to also vibe to the familiar bass line and muted brass that doubles his vocals in the chorus.
No review of Sumney’s discography would be complete without reference to his magical, difficult-to-pin-down voice. His famous hypnotic falsetto makes several appearances throughout the album; however, it is especially compelling in “In Bloom” and “Neither/Nor.” In the midst of a delicately plucked electric guitar riff and surges of sweet string figures, Sumney sings about unrequited love in “In Bloom” (“Sometimes I want to kiss my friends”). Philosophical thoughts of identity are confronted in “Neither/Nor,” haunting listeners with the repeated question of “who is he?” among the pulsing dance of a tender acoustic guitar. Sumney has a gift for injecting passion and spirit into relaxed tracks like these.
At the same time, Sumney makes faster, harder-driving tracks seem similarly effortless. “Virile” begins with angelic harp cascades complemented by flute trills, which seamlessly transition into electric guitar and drums, achieving a classic rock-like essence with a touch of soul. The music is a suitable match for the subject of the lyrics: confronting toxic masculinity. Sumney proclaims that “The virility fades / You've got the wrong guy,” communicating his fluid understanding of gender.
Another healthy dose of social commentary arises in “boxes,” in which Sumney interrogates the labels people tend to place on themselves and others as a means of security. The repeated samples of gasps that establish the rhythmic quality of the track add an additional layer of personality. This track has no melody, giving it more of a cadenced spoken word feel. An ambiguous voice conveys the significance of personal definitions, saying “I truly believe that people who define you control you / And the most significant thing that any person can do / But especially black women and men / Is to think about who gave them their definitions / And rewrite those definitions for themselves.” “boxes” is essentially a call to action that serves as mesmeric departure from the other tracks in “græ: Part 1.”
Throughout his music, Sumney’s palpable talent emanates from both his songs’ creative sonic construction to the pure poetry embedded within his lyrics. In “græ: Part 1,” he is able to more deeply explore his identity with reference to his relationships, masculinity, and race than ever before. This album is undoubtedly a project that Sumney spent a lot of time and energy perfecting, and the final product is more than masterful. It is a nuanced, captivating, and complex addition to Sumney’s discography.
— Staff Writer Chibuike K. Uwakwe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @chibbyu.
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