Review: Moses Sumney rejects classification on new album

Moses Sumney, “græ” (Jagjaguwar)

No man is an island, but that doesn’t mean all men are safe from being islanded.

Moses Sumney’s new album, “græ,” proclaims this truth alongside others.

“And so I come from isolation,” says a female narrator. As she makes the connection between “isolation” and “island” etymologically, she has an epiphany: “That’s exactly what I’ve been, my whole life; I’ve been islanded.”

Sumney’s double album “græ” (pronounced “gray”) is existential, explorative and vital. In a world that feels anything but safe, his music is an extension of this reality, rather than a glossy façade meant to hide the pain. In “Cut Me,” he begs to be hurt: “Might not be healthy for me/But seemingly I need/What cuts me.”

“Græ” may speak of isolation, but the album itself is a collaborative ecosystem. From bass guitarist Thundercat to R&B legend Jill Scott to British writer Taiye Selasi, who’s voice acts as a narrative thread throughout, the album’s credits range far.

Sumney’s composition can feel raw and stripped down on songs like “Keeps Me Alive” and “Polly.” Other tracks, like “Gagarin,” are a cacophony of sound. Distorted voices, spoken word, humming, buzzing, tech infused jazz arrangements — it’s clear Sumney doesn’t want his music classified the way humans seek to classify. “I truly believe that people who define you control you,” are the words of the warped audio in “boxes.”

In “Neither/Nor,” this sentiment is echoed. Falling in love with the in-between, he feels others are threatened by the “undefined.” In a falsetto that borders on a scream, he sings, “They say/Oh, who is he?/Nobody.”

It’s this rejection of the binary that defines the album and makes its title, “græ,” appropriate. Life does not thrive in the black and the white in Sumney’s eyes. It blooms in the middle.

The power of “græ” rests in the fact that it is neither black, nor white.

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