LAMENTATIONS by Moses Sumney
Genre: Alternative R&B, Indie Folk
Favorite Tracks: “Lonely World,” “Proud to Be”
Moses Sumney lives in a lonely, lonely world. A standout track from his 2014 EP MID-CITY ISLAND, “Man on the Moon,” paints him as a vagrant wandering through space, accompanied only by his gorgeous falsetto and finger-plucked guitar. This solitude is reflected in the EP’s title, as he recorded all five songs on a four-track recorder, alone, in his single-bedroom Los Angeles apartment. His recent follow-up to that record is a another five song EP, these tunes pulled from his prospective full length debut. The release of this year’s LAMENTATIONS means that restless fans will have to continue to wait for his anticipated LP, but at least he’s left them with some good company.
Those who are acquainted with Sumney’s music will find themselves in familiar territory for the opening track of LAMENTATIONS; “Ascension” is comprised of little more than acoustic guitar, some backing choir vocals, and Moses’s wispy ponderings on death. Lyrically, “Ascension,” along with the rest of the album, would fit right into Sumney’s previous EP: “the sky seems clear” when, inevitably, “your body severs ties.” LAMENTATIONS is a proper title for an album with songs about “parting this earth”; its title is taken from a book in the Hebrew bible that uses poems to depict the destruction of Jerusalem. Sumney’s work has always sounded vaguely religious from his use of choirs, but this EP embraces spirituality more directly, as the closer, “Incantation,” is sung in Moses’s native Hebrew. Beyond needing a translator for the song, a lyric sheet is a near necessity for the entirety of the EP, as Sumney’s cosmic delivery makes most words unrecognizable.
Sonically, the album suggests little development in the two years since MID-CITY ISLAND, with the exception of an audibly bigger budget. The majority of this budget seems to be spent perfecting the mix to best highlight Sumney’s smooth voice — but this doesn’t act as an improvement over his debut. MID-CITY ISLAND was alluring in large part because it was raw, unadulterated talent. The singing and songwriting chops of Sumney suggested he would one day play festivals, but we were exposed to what he sounded like when left to his own devices. LAMENTATIONS loses the organic quality of his 2014 release without capitalizing on the potentials of a proper recording studio and more collaborators. This is true of all tracks but “Lonely World,” the best song of the bunch.
“Lonely World,” the climax of the album, opens sparsely but quickly reveals a great asset — an immediately recognizable Thundercat feature on bass. Moses describes “the sound of the void” in a “lonely world,” making the writing par for the course. The music, however, is not. After a quick verse, Sumney utilizes Thundercat’s bass, vocal layering, horns, and stomping percussion to reach a more cinematic catharsis than his parsed-down sound has ever let him achieve before. Perhaps the entire expanded budget was spent on this track, and it works unbelievably well, going grander while keeping Sumney the focal point. This may not be music we’re accustomed to hearing from Moses Sumney, but he doesn’t sound outside of his comfort zone whatsoever — hinting at the many different directions his career could eventually take.
As for the foreseeable future, Sumney’s full length debut still has no release date. LAMENTATIONS serves to keep rabid fans at bay, but although wholly enjoyable, it’s more of the same. Its short runtime of 19 minutes can serve as the perfect break for those over listening to the new Bon Iver or Solange albums, but it won’t take you to the same places those records will. Sumney was reported to claim that this EP is the product of tracks from the album that didn’t fit with the rest, suggesting he consciously wants to make a different artistic statement, rather than rehash his lonely-man-playing-his-lonely-guitar routine. Regardless, if Moses Sumney keeps making music this great, it’s hard to see him being alone for much longer.