Moses Sumney: Back In The Deep Red

review by Hunter Sanders


From 2016, artists have struggled to come to terms with their place in a post-Trump world. Do we make art that directly addresses the injustice we hate, or do we celebrate the power and dignity of the individual as an antithesis to the hate? 

Not to oversimplify, but it seems Moses Sumney has done both in his new Black in Deep Red EP. It is overtly political, but it is not with the grace and transcendence we expect from Moses Sumney. From even the cover and title, Moses is dealing with the presence of black strength in an increasingly hostile, and far-right, culture. Red sand meets a hard shore of black rock, suggesting the transience of current powers and the insistence of true culture. It draws inspiration from a Mark Rothko painting, which Moses Sumney uses to allude to the Ferguson protests.

Yeah, we’re already getting into it.

Track one, Power?, begins with a recording of a protest chant, presumably recorded by Moses himself, as opposed to mere sampling. He takes the recording and modulates it, and what was once a chant is now a song of rising strength and increasing harmony. But the harmonies are not resolved. They hang in the air as the song comes to a close. The effect is ghostly.

“Power, Power. Power to the community. The community is power. Power, Power. Power to the people. The people are power”

But are they? And shouldn’t they be? 

Moses Sumney croons a melodic solution in Call-To-Arms. The entire song is devoid of lyrics but it is far far far from being devoid of meaning. The lack of lyrics seems to suggest that the solutions to the modern climate is largely aesthetic, that beauty is a solution in and of itself for hate. This melody is not without complexity, however. It is overlaid with howls and chants, and an intense saxophone solo that is almost certainly a nod to black history at large as it is not a usual instrument we hear in his music. It is chaotic and, but driving and aggressively objective. The energy is confusing but invigorating, and Moses knows what he wants to say. The current culture is one of turmoil, but the turmoil has driven many opposed to that turmoil together in a concerted effort to calm it. Call-To-Arms shows that voicing the conditions of oppression is a part of its solution.

In case you might not yet get the picture, Moses Sumney closes this bit-sized but punch-packing EP with Rank and File, which opens with a sample of a woman saying “They in soldier mode, they in toy soldier mode right now,” of the police force presumably in Ferguson. The song is a play off of marching chants, specifically that old “I don’t know what I’ve been told,” number. The image of the police force is one laden with the kitschier stereotypes of military life, and so posits the militarization of police as something corny and gaudy. Each line, though laced with this cutting commentary calls people to protest in opposition to the police state. It belittles oppression and exalts the oppressed citizen.

“Now watch how they tremble

Without credential

Orders they follow

Skin deep and hollow

Their governing master

To their hip is plastered

Say protect and serve us

But murder’s not service”

I don’t know about you but after hearing that I feel like I need to go on a quick run now.