With his timeless, ageless and, indeed, otherworldly voice, it may be surprising to learn that Moses Sumney was something of a late bloomer. In 2014, he recorded his debut EP, Mid-City Island, alone in his bedroom on a four-track cassette recorder. The recorder was a gift from TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, who had used it to capture his own group’s early demos. Sitek recognized talent in the young musician, who was notoriously shy. “I knew that he had his own voice and his own calling,” Sitek later told The New York Times. “I just felt lucky to be listening, and that is a super rare feeling.” In 2016, Sumney perfected his splendid style of sensual, exposed falsetto—the best vehicle he’d found for practicing singing quietly, so that no one else would hear—on the more polished EP, Lamentations. Meanwhile, a powerful set of collaborators, recognizing his potential, began to sweep him up into their orbit. Sumney soon found himself touring with similarly emotive songwriters like James Blake, Sufjan Stevens, and Jose Gonzalez, and making appearances on Beck’s celebrated covers compilation, Song Reader, and Solange Knowles’ 2016 epic, A Seat at the Table.
Born in California to Christian pastors from Ghana, Sumney relocated with his family to Accra, Ghana’s capital, when he was just ten. He struggled to make friends in the new environment, and was frequently teased for his American accent. He found solace in the CDs gifted to him by his father, and he taught himself to sing by mimicking the vocal styles of Justin Timberlake, Usher, and Beyonce. At twelve, he began to scribble song ideas in a notebook, stuffing it under his mattress for fear of being teased. The family moved back to California six years later, but his time in Ghana opened up what Sumney calls “an almost obnoxious obsession with loneliness, singledom, isolation.”
That has been the through-line of his songwriting ever since—and it’s working. Sumney’s full-length debut, 2017’s Aromanticism, is brilliant. His gauzy falsetto floats above guitar and string arrangements so spare as to suggest celestial bodies in an otherwise open space. Working with elements of jazz, ambient, soul, and folk, Aromanticism pushes familiar genres in intoxicating new directions. A fluid vocalist, a poet and philosopher, and an advocate for black compositional creativity: Sumney’s ambition and invention, colored by a decidedly dark-blue emotional center, makes him one of today’s most captivating singers and songwriters.