Los Angeles singer/songwriter Moses Sumney‘s biggest statement to date is “Lonely World,” his elaborately layered art-pop epic from last year’s Lamentations EP. Sumney’s fifth single overall, “Lonely World” found him building up from his loop-pedal bedroom-pop sounds into something that more closely resembled Radiohead by way of Brainfeeder. Gradually stacking new elements on top of each other, many of them Sumney’s own vocals, the track slowly elevates from an intimate statement of loneliness into a psychedelic vortex of lushly arranged art pop. Sumney had yet to release his debut album, but with one of the best songs of 2016 under his belt, he already seemed ready for the next level.
“Lonely World” is resurrected in slightly more elaborately produced fashion on Aromanticism, Moses Sumney’s long-awaited first full-length. And in many respects it’s a strong representation of the kind of approach that he pursues on the 11 tracks here. True to the small but impressive body of work he built up beforehand, Aromanticism finds Sumney delving into slow-burning atmospheric pop songs, many of them taking their time to reach any sort of climax, some of them evading such a thing altogether. It’s an album that requires a certain level of patience from the listener, though at 34 minutes total, not unreasonably so. Sumney doesn’t ask a lot of his listeners’ time, just that they be present in it.
The first single from the album, “Doomed,” is a microcosm of Sumney’s measured, patient approach. Essentially an ambient track that juxtaposes Sumney’s stunningly vast vocal range against ebbing waves of synth, “Doomed” is a meditation on loneliness, Sumney asking with devastating expressiveness, “Am I vital if my heart is idle?/ Am I doomed?” That the song never expands beyond its peaceful backing gives heavier weight to his own vocals, which are already pretty intense, but left to reverberate without much instrumental competition, they cut deep. By comparison, the acoustic strum of “Indulge Me” is just as lovely but far more hushed and serene, Sumney’s voice layering over itself in a deeply soulful campfire singalong. Yet they’re cut from a similar cloth, a stark backing being used to accompany but never overshadow the voice at the center of each song.
Based on atmospheric, jazzy tracks such as “Plastic” and “Don’t Bother Calling,” it would seem that Moses Sumney doesn’t really need much to make his songs feel complete. They’re stark, open and intimate tracks, but they feel complete all the same. Yet when Sumney adds slightly more, it makes a pretty significant difference. “Quarrel” is the longest song on the album, and one that reveals some of the most gorgeously compelling details of any song here, from the gentle drum-machine programming to its plucks of harp to its woozy organ and Sumney’s command, “Don’t call it a lovers’ quarrel.” Not to mention the space-funk coda that turns it into something new and exciting on its way out. And then there’s the centerpiece of the album, the previously released but no less potent “Lonely World.” Throughout Aromanticism, Sumney offers the illusion of simplicity, deriving comfort from solitude. When Sumney dares to step outside of that lonesome space, however, he opens himself up to vast galaxies of sound.