REVIEW: Moses Sumney – Grae (Part 2)

If this two-part album release trend catches on, it could be a blessing for music reviewers. Think of all the glorious opportunities to backtrack on hasty verdicts! ‘Misunderstandings’ over criticism cleared up; embarrassingly excessive praise rowed back – these could be good times. Of course, I’ll stubbornly stick by my March verdict on Part 1 of Moses Sumney’s Græ, though. I called it “fascinating” because of the many genres it exquisitely explores (‘In Bloom’, ‘Conveyor’, ‘Gagarin’), “flawed”, as some songs don’t work as well (‘Virile’, ‘Neither/Nor’) and generally complained about the interludes and press releases. As a whole (or half) though, it had me eager to discover how Part 2 would add to it.

Græ’s second part is more understated musically and more introspective lyrically, further exploring the concept of life’s “greyness” by largely returning to the isolation themes of his first album. As a complement to Part 1, it’s a complete success.

By breaking up the two parts, Sumney has clearly intended for listeners to consider each half in greater depth than we would if it was released as a whole, and Part 2 is not only a fine collection of songs, but it makes Part 1 (and therefore the whole) more understandable as a result.

As ever, the meticulous Sumney ensures the transition between the two parts is near seamless, following the acoustic ‘Polly’ with the even more restrained ‘Two Dogs’. The subject matter (the harrowing death of two childhood pets and the darkly funny way it has left an impact) is a stark illustration of Sumney’s formative experiences of greyness – and the confusing imprint it leaves on one’s psyche (“strange how what heals can also kill”). I previously mentioned his talent for minimal songcraft in Part 1, and here, the carefully applied flute, saxophone and synth notes allied to those vocals have an arresting impact.

This high standard is maintained throughout Part 2. ‘Bystanders’ describes casting off incidental people in our lives over an ambient drone reminiscent of Aromanticism highlight ‘Doomed’. It’s an apt invocation, as what follows is the return of that album’s themes of aloneness. ‘Me in 20 Years’ has Sumney poetically pondering whether he’ll be alone forever (“I wonder how I’ll sleep at night with a cavity by my side”). ‘Keeps Me Alive’ sees him ruminating over delicately plucked guitar whether what keeps him going is this “childlike curiosity about my fate”. On ‘Lucky Me’, he expresses gratitude for the lessons learned from an ended relationship, and moves toward a note of acceptance and resolution.

It’s a resolution that is underlined by the title of final interlude ‘and so I come to isolation’. In the context of Part 2, the dramatic genre experiments of Part 1 represent those indefinable, in-between, “grey” life experiences that have shaped him (in relationships, gender expectations and identity, for instance). Part 2 therefore reveals how these can manifest in the self – and in Sumney’s case, the result of these experiences is his isolation from people, for better or worse. Like a tightly constructed film, when the sonic and thematic pieces come together so emphatically like this, it’s awe-inspiring.

On Græ, Moses Sumney has widened his scope and ambition. A bigger scale means more potential pitfalls, and naturally, there are flaws in this record. But the way its stellar second side completes an album that already seemed pretty accomplished as a standalone Part 1 is a stunning achievement. Sumney has again illustrated what a seriously impressive Artist he is. I’ll even forgive that excessive press release: this is a “conceptual patchwork of greyness” that everyone needs to hear.

 

Words by Tom Burrows.

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