ACL Live Review: Moses Sumney

A Ghanian vocal cure for existential panic

ACL fosters euphoria, but dance parties hardly jibe with a sexual predator on the highest court and global warming hell arriving in 2040. Moses Sumney’s Sunday afternoon set in the Tito’s Tent didn’t so much distract from the existential dread as it exaggerated his own, moving a transfixed festival crowd to tears through vulnerable introspection.

Photo by Jana Birchum

“You could be partying, but you chose to be crying,” pointed out the singer behind Matrix-esque sunglasses and a mystical, all-black, cloaked suit fit for a funeral on Mars.

The Ghana-raised, L.A.-based crooner was right. We could have easily been losing our dome to X Ambassadors or Janelle Monáe, but we chose to wallow in Sumney’s torment because it helped manage that of our own. His melodramatic electro-folk crosses Sufjan Stevens and Björk as it wrestles with his biggest quandary: how to operate as a romantic in a society that conditions your self-worth around fleeting, socially defined emotions such as love.

With the help of a three-piece rhythm section, Sumney drank tea and delivered rare microtonal range with ethereal ease. Gripping the crowd with his vocals and more, he spent an entire verse holding the hand of a mesmerized woman in the front row during his cover of Björk’s “Come to Me.” It’s strange watching someone with such a transcendent voice having to wrestle so much of their own value as demonstrated on abandoned hymn “Lonely World” and the sex-avoidant “Make Out in My Car.”

On “Doomed,” he wondered if being impervious to love renders his life meaningless.

However tragic the ruminations, they proved beautiful by representing a once lost soul finding his path by the grace of his own voice. His croons are so operatic, so vast, so textured, that they implore the multiplicity of the human experience, each note filling love’s void with a chaotic catharsis of fear, hope, comfort, and loss. A loop pedal layering buzzing vibratos behind the singer’s high velvet falsettos only heightened the evocative experience.

Make no mistake, however: Moses Sumney’s natural ability to oscillate between octaves on a whim pitted our stomach, dropped our jaw, and eased our pain.

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Moses Sumney, ACL Fest 2018, ACL Music Fest 2018, Sufjan Stevens, Björk

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