Since quietly landing on everyone’s radar with just about ten songs to his name, Moses Sumney’s been a toast of our favorites: Dave Sitek gave him a four-track recorder, Solange crooned with him on the pivotal “Mad,” and James Blake and Sufjan have already taken him on tour. Since his UCLA days, he’s graced everywhere from Pitchfork to Eaux Claires with a live show that’s inviting you in to feel what you must, yet intimidating enough to remind you not to disrupt before you’re read out of the building. Still, he doesn’t seem that interested in fame, shying away from releasing a full-length until the situation gave him all the control he desired. As the recluse becomes elusive, he’s yet to be a household name, yet he’s sorely missed by all who’ve found him, an otherworldly discovery that’ll pierce you with an eternal gravity and heavenly energy even when he chooses not to form a word.
Aromanticism glides just over a half-hour, diving into a commentary on itself with the rhetorical and emotive flair suggesting someone at least a decade older. When a quick glance at Webster’s won’t suffice, Sumney does the work by conjuring the dramatic and the exaggerated to grapple with our conceptions of love and relationships. (A missed text or a callback feels like everything and nothing when considering the Earth and all its innermost secrets.) In a sense, the Sumney we find here is loveless, but there’s neither extended pining for completion nor a sense that the world’s caving in without “the one” for him. On the contrary, he begs the question: if God is love, and he’s without love, is he without God? If he’s disposed of, cast away, is that the end of the world as he knows it or merely a circumstance to become accustomed to? Intentional or not, it’s an antithesis to an overwhelming majority of modern pop: daring to put a word to the disconnection and a microscope to the absurdity of monogamous, partnered romance as a constant societal supreme.
Refreshing and interrogative, the deconstructed production takes a mythical quality that leaves Sumney as the focal point, his signature vocal layering channeling the choirs we never knew we had inside. We find falsettos surrounded by whirling movements of guitar and piano, or subdued by a persistent drone. In this world, the despondence of longing sounds not only bearable, but an option to dwell in the darkness; so much so, any attempt to narrow a genre renders itself a pointless exercise. Breakout singles “Plastic” and “Lonely World” return here in grander form, arranged to feel bigger and crisper without losing the raw intimacy that earned him acclaim. On the former, the acoustics get a gentle cushion from a dampened string section, begging to break through to the foreground before disappearing and reappearing again in the final fade. “Doomed” never finds a drum and dwells in its anticlimactic pulse, its cavernous ambient hum resembling the very void Sumney spends his time pondering his life’s worth within.
The album’s two interludes further the cinematic quality Aromanticism takes on, offering memories of Sumney in the car with his mother and a fable-like poem of the way society imprints its beliefs into children before they’re born. While they fit fine as fragmented bits of Sumney’s mind—perhaps him flexing the other sectors of his writing muscle—they also offer missed opportunities to expand the album themes into a more succinct narrative. And while there’s not a bad song on the album, it disappears as quickly as it began, like Sumney surely fading back into obscurity to scheme his next master plan. If length is the biggest complaint, is there a complaint? Aromanticism is about freedom, giving permission, and finding pleasure as simply as you’d like, if you’d like it at all. Now over the hump of the first album, there’s all the evidence of Moses Sumney as an irresistible talent that tears at the powers and privileges of this world by existing, claiming space, and owning all he is without a damn to spare.