Every now and then an album comes along that catches you completely off guard. An album that is completely full of luscious moments, textured without being dense, and precious without being pretentious. It happened fairly early in the year when Moses Sumney released the forever explorable and insanely thought provoking Grae: Part 1.
Now, the record isn’t completely without pretension. There’s a strange timeline that needs to be broken down. Grae was released in an unorthodox way. It was released in two parts, the first 12 tracks were released back in February, and the final eight tracks were released just last week. It isn’t clear if this is presented as a double album or not. The length of the whole album comes to only 65 minutes, and in a musical climate we’re in now, where a lot of musicians are releasing long albums, this certainly isn’t out of the ordinary.
Part 1 is absolutely extraordinary. The 12 tracks make up close to a perfect album, constantly weaving between sound collages, heartfelt songs, samples, spoken word, and experiments. The whole album is one lovely experiment. Every tiny hidden sound has been delicately and achingly worked over. This really sounds like one of those albums that blood, sweat, and tears went in to.
The first single, “Virile” caught me off guard. I was always aware of Sumney, I knew he was affiliated with Sufjan Stevens in a couple of ways, and I listened to a little bit of his music, but it never really clicked with me. It wasn’t until “Virile” dropped that my ears perked up. It’s chaotic, percussive madness. This is not how I remembered Sumney’s music. “Cut Me” continues the percussion with its ratatat drums and catchy horn section, and “Polly” is the most powerful closer I’ve heard in years. It’s clear why Sumney’s music attracted Sufjan’s ears, it’s full of intimacy, horn arrangements, and honesty.
The last eight tracks, the most recently released Part 2, does not really add much to the record as a whole. In fact, I think the track format is all wrong, it reduces Polly from a powerful closing ballad to a track that gets lost in a jumble of 20 songs. Part 2 continues in it’s style of sound patchworks and spoken word. It is completely inferior to Part 1 and was unnecessary to release separately. The novelty of the release doesn’t make complete sense to me. I think the decision wasn’t so much of an artistic expression as much as it was a business decision; a way of keeping streaming numbers high.
When all is said and done, it’s a great album, but I’ll definitely be listening to Part 1 as if that’s its own album for the most part.