There is a major difference between loneliness and aloneness. While the former brings notions of inadequacy and remoteness, the latter is just to exist in an empty space. Moses Sumney brought the crowd at First Unitarian Church into this space Oct. 12.
In the tail end of September, Sumney released his debut album “Aromanticism.” Sparse and beautiful, the soul singer illustrated his distrust of a lovelorn world and the aloneness that follows. Through 11 tracks, the Solange Knowles collaborator delicately floated through this space, crooning out his unique worldview.
Xenia Rubinos, a Brooklyn-based singer, opened for Sumney. Lugging on stage only a massive bass guitar with no other backing musicians, Rubinos mirrored Sumney’s own sparse sonicscape. Through a blend of freestyled scatting and singing, Rubinos expressed the hardships of both womanhood and her heritage, painting a more poignant picture than most openers generally are able to do. The crowd was entranced, and even applauded so loudly once she left the stage that Rubinos came back for a brief encore.
A few moments later, the room darkened. In a haze of twinkling synths, five light stands on stage began to twinkle on and off. Soon, Sumney sulked on stage, silhouetted by the lights. Nothing was visible other than his outline, showing off his height and the tufts of hair poking up high. With a whisper, Sumney dove into “Self-Help Tape” off of his newly released album. His delicate voice added to the hazy atmosphere, holding the audience in a trance. Quietly rising before cracking and mulling, Sumney’s voice had a dream-like quality to it that ironically made the entire experience feel quite religious.
But Sumney’s solitary facade was broken throughout the show. When one crowd member cried out “you’re doing great sweetie,” a reference to a popular Twitter meme, Sumney giggled, repeated the phrase and joked that he was hip and knew the reference. Near the end of “Doomed,” one of Sumney’s more popular tracks, he joked that he was tired of singing and passed the mic off to a few audience members in the front row. To everyone’s surprise, they all happened to be members of a church choir and had amazing voices. Sumney stood aside dumbfounded and let three of them sing the ending to the track, and joked that they weren’t supposed to show him up at his own concert.
Sumney flowed through the tracks on “Aromanticism.” The airy album took on an entirely new light when performed live. The background strings on “Make Out in My Car” became a swelling, triumphant plea when performed on stage. As Sumney crooned “I don’t trouble nobody / nobody troubles my body after / all my old others have found lovers” on the aching “Indulge Me,” you could feel the lyrics burning through to your bones. Each song, from “Quarrel” to “Don’t Bother Calling” and even a cover of a Bjork song shone more brightly when you could feel the lyrics drift out of Sumney’s lips.
Sumney’s unique vocal range and penmanship was cemented when he released his debut in September. “Aromanticism” showcased his introspective view on romance and was filled with grand, atmospheric sounds. But Sumney’s true artistry really shines when he is performing live. Wrapped in a warm blanket of Sumney’s grainy falsetto, the audience at the First Unitarian Church was brought together in this empty space.