Moses Sumney, the rising singer from Los Angeles, recently stopped by NPR to do a Tiny Desk Concert in the NPR office. The artist mixes R&B, soul, folk, and electronica in a whirlwind sound that is undeniably his. Accompanied by three other musicians, Sumney tore through a three song set that showed the strength of his voice and the variety of his style, incorporating harp, sax, and various synthetic textures along the way.
The video opens with Sumney on the piano in another part of the office, opening up with the beginning lines of “Doomed,” one of his singles from his latest album “Aromanticism” out earlier this year.
With inverted tongue
From whence does fulfillment come?
When I expel
From this mortal shell
Will I die for living numb?”
Sumney’s haunting voice lays upon the warm blanket of piano, lending weight to his already heavy and poetic lyrics. When he opens up into the chorus, we feel the full blast of a song that comes from the depths of a man’s soul:
“Am I vital
If my heart is idle?
Am I doomed?
Am I vital
If my heart is idle?
Am I doomed?”
The band expands and plays with each song, adding new elements that weren’t present on the album versions. The songs still flow fluidly though, aided by expert instrumentation from the whole band, a group that includes notable saxophone player Sam Gendel, who has made waves in the jazz world with his band Inga and plays everything from sax to bass and electric guitar in Sumney’s Tiny Desk set.
The second song in Sumney’s performance is a twisting and labyrinthine version of his song “Quarrel,” which changes from the more recognizable sounds from the album recording track to a pleasant, spacious breakdown. The harp sounds wonderful here in the midst of electronic tones and some heady guitar musings. Sumney shows how well he can play with experimental song structures and not lose his audience somewhere in the stratosphere.
For the last song Sumney plays solo with only an electric guitar, singing his jazz-inflected pop number “Plastic.” Though it’s got the groove and melody of a sweet R&B love song, it’s lyrics suggest the opposite. Sumney’s prose documents the brokenness and trials of a life, especially when human connection can be so hard to find.
“I know what it is to be broken and be bold
Tell you that my silver is gold
Though we’re much too old for make believe
And I know what it’s like to behold and not be held
Funny how a stomach unfed
Seems satisfied ’cause it’s swell and swollen”
Head to NPR to watch the video.
Also, check out Sumney’s album “Aromanticism” when you get the chance. It’s out now on Jagjaguwar.