Objectively, I’m not sure if you could describe this as a, “happy”, album.
That said, Mr. Sumney doesn’t necessarily traffic in that— his last album was called, “aromanticism”, after all.
Though these song may not be happy, I expect listeners would be hard pressed to describe them as anything but beautiful.
Though sad, they also contain glimmers of hope– or, at the very least, an acknowledgement that there might be something around the corner that is better, albeit, unrealized.
For those who’ve never listened to Mr. Sumney sing, it’s difficult to describe how incredible his voice is.
It’s almost terrifying— an instrument that is at once, raw, arresting, devastatingly beautiful, and humbling. He is fully in command of what comes out of his mouth, and his delivery is flawless.
The only person I can think to compare him to is Maxwell, whose cover of Kate Bush’s, “This Woman’s Work,” was the gauntlet that no male singer I’ve heard since, has really picked up.
Here though, Sumney takes it, and runs with it. For just over an hour, he treats us to a masterclass— detailing pain, love, and the broad (or not so broad) strokes of the lived human experience.
The album opens with, “insula”, and it sees a woman delivering a spoken word piece about isolation with musical accompaniment, one that begins very clearly and succinctly, before ultimately, devolving into pitched or garbled repetition.
It’s a short piece, a mere 47 seconds. Sonically, the music that accompanies it is free-wheeling, and uncertain. Not free-jazz so to speak, but it’s not necessarily soothing either. It sets a precedent for the listener— a cautious, tepid one, that’s going to make us promptly forget any notion of predictability or safety we thought we might have, going forward.
To be honest, it’s difficult to discuss these songs individually. Initially, released as two EPs from what I understand, the way that things are structured now speaks to a very specific flow that is perhaps, best enjoyed uninterrupted.
What does that uninterrupted enjoyment speak to?
Magical realism? Fantasy and free-spirited wanderings?
To me, probably all of those things. I’m okay with not being 100% certain either.
I don’t want to know for sure, at least, not right in this moment.
This is an album that you could probably listen to for years, and have it grow with you. It offers a lot more in terms of questions than it does instructions, and as that’s so, you have to make the investment, and get to know it.
As I mentioned earlier, while this may not be an obstensibly “happy” album, it’s a breathtaking listen, that’s full of beauty.
If I had to describe my listening experiences as a whole, I’d say that I’m given the impression of floating through an aqueous forest, guided by twinkling bioluminescence, and the hypnotic beacon that is Sumney’s voice.
It’s a surreal listening experience. It’s dream-like. It’s something that commands your full attention, and is best enjoyed with headphones.
This is best represented by the penultimate song, “Bless me.” I’ve already had it on repeat for the better part of a couple days, and I’d be quite fine with it ultimately devouring me, allowing me to become one with its gratitude, longing, or optimism— whichever it actually is.
Those three descriptors are varied and conflicting, I know, but that’s just kind of how the music is.
You may not know which way is up, sometimes, but you most certainly will FEEL in listening to these songs.
There is euphoria amongst the sadness– something that rises from the murk to become something else.
Something more hopeful.
Something that people need to hear.
While 2020 has has any number of weeks that seem to defy conventional logic about what could happen in our world and our country, I think many people are feeling that this has certainly been one of the roughest.
It’s not difficult to find ourselves at a loss.
Ultimately, I can only speak to my experience, but this album is allowing me something. Maybe it’s catharsis. Maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, it’s taking me somewhere when I listen to it, and it’s helping me move in perhaps, a more positive way than I might otherwise.
Whether or not it does any of that for you, I can’t say. I’m fairly confident however, that it’ll be one of the more arresting, and particular listening experiences that you have this year, so I would encourage you to give it a shot.