Mid-City Island – Moses Sumney (2014)

Mid-City Island cover art
Mid-City Island cover art

From time to time I come across something that’s really new. Of course there’s really nothing truly “new” as everything is in some way derivative of something or someone who came before. That’s the way our civilization has evolved. But on a few occasions, we stumble upon something truly original if not exactly new.

The internet makes this possible while at the same time it exhausts the possibilities by overwhelming the music fan with too many options. Fortunately, new artist have track proven sites like Okayplayer, Soundcloud and even YouTube to get the word and the music out. That’s how I came across Moses Sumney.

Sumney is a L.A. based singer songwriter who combines elements of folk, soul and mild electronica in a way that makes it all sound new and fresh. It also makes it difficult to peg his music into one genre. Anyone who mixes it up with the likes of Sufjan Stevens, Chris Taylor (Panda Bear) and Solange is bound to be musically eclectic. His first EP Mid-City Island started out on the suggestion by a friend that he record himself before going to a real studio. So with a four track cassette recorder, Sumney fleshed out Mid-City Island into a 5 track 15 minute study of musical minimalism.

The results harken back to the simple acoustic sound of British sophist-pop bands like Kings of Convenience and early Everything But the Girl. Unlike them, Sumney infuses his songs with a bit of post modern uneasiness with the use of distorted vocals – usually in the background.

While the album is simple in its arrangements, Sumey’s voice takes a haunting and distorted nature in the background of “San Fran”. It’s similar to the vocal treatments of some Radiohead songs from OK Computer.

The distortions continue with “Mumblin’”, a song very much reminiscent of Panda Bear that whatever electronic impulses it might have are tempered by the organic feel of Sumney’s voice both in the foreground as as a background loop.

Clearly the albums two most beautiful songs “Man of The Moon” and “Plastic” feature Sumney’s voice over an electric guitar. Somehow he manages to make the songs sound sparse and full at the same time with a slight hint of electronic (via distorted background vocals).

The fact that Sumney would rebel against the common digital recording practices in favor of older more intimate analogue techniques shows that his approach can yield distinctive results without sounding gimmicky or directly derivative. Somehow I Imagine Sumney’s approach to be like the vampire rock star in the 2013 film Only Lovers Left Alive who insisted in using outdated analogue equipment to make his music resulting in a uniquely timeless sound.

There’s nothing dark or scary about Mid-City Island, but it is haunting at moments and always beautiful. Hearing this album makes you want more. Various singles and live performances are floating around out there but Sumney has not released a widely distributed album yet. In May of 2014 he has released a new single called “Seeds”, which suggest that a new album may be coming soon. I can’t wait.


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