“Rank & File”—the closing track from Moses Sumney’s new EP, Black in Deep Red, 2014—has an electrifying, overtly political urgency that is unlike anything else in Sumney’s catalog. The song—which is a live concert staple—and EP were inspired by Sumney’s first time attending a demonstration in his hometown of Los Angeles, following a grand jury’s decision not to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown. Unlike his usual experimental soul, on which he’s known for unspooling his falsetto with the utmost precision, “Rank & File” is martial protest music framed in a booming call-and-response style.
“Now I don’t care what I’ve been told,” sings Sumney, quivering. “This police state is much too cold.” The underlying rhythm, built mostly on finger snaps and the occasional injection of static, creates an uneasy tension under Sumney’s winding verses; he also weaves in background vocalists, whose bell-clear highs and pained lows give the song a spiritual depth. Samples and field recordings—chanting and shouted—creates a stark sense of place: “They in soldier mode, they in toy soldier mode right now,” exclaims a man at the beginning of the track—describing, one imagines, a militarized police force. Black in Deep Red, 2014 takes its name from a Mark Rothko painting in which crimson hues encroach on a deep black center and, it suggests by inclusion, a visual metaphor to Sumney for the events at Ferguson. “I took to the mountains soon after that and wrote these songs, wondering if power was a transferable device that could change hands through the vocalizing of unrest,” Sumney said of the EP in a statement. “Rank & File” may not answer his own question, but when it comes to vocalizing unrest, few artists in recent memory have done it more powerfully.
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