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White Noise: Gonjasufi – MU.ZZ.LE

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Gonjasufi – MU.ZZ.LE

Label: Warp

White Picket Fence

Nikels and Dimes

The Blame

Sumach Ecks’ first album as Gonjasufi, A Sufi And A Killer, was a wild, unpredictable ride through broken Hip Hop landscapes, dominated by Ecks’ inimitable vocals. Sometimes screeching, sometimes soothing, his voice anchored these songs as they covered a wide range of musical styles, from lullaby to Trip Hop. But as is clear in the album title, the success of his debut was just as much down to production partner The Gaslamp Killer as it was Ecks’ utterly unique vocals and themes. Here on his second full-length Gonjasufi offers an album just as fascinating and just as difficult, but perhaps ultimately a little less rewarding.

Opener White Picket Fence establishes the album strongly, with all Gonjasufi’s trademark mood and instrumentation in place. A deep haze submerges all instrumentation, with a trippy groove supplied by an electric piano’s languid keys. Ecks’ lyrics, although often just as indistinguishable as on his debut, are once more elucidated by his wide range of vocal tones, making this release more emotional immediate than its predecessor. On second cut Feedin’ Birds Ecks’ wife supplies a soaring croon that compliments the sound perfectly, soothing at first but simmering with acidic rage just beneath the surface.

This shrouded threat of violence is continued as the second cut switches fluidly into a crackling drum
 loop at the start of Nikels and Dimes, an early highlight. The beats are contrasted with an oddly sweet melody which screeches and cries, and while the instrumentation reaches an uneasy equilibrium it is clearly grounded by some of Ecks’ clearest lyrics, discussing poverty and the role of privilege. The production across the LP is generally top notch, with minor details often accented the soundfield such as the muttered words towards the close of this track, which could be Ecks or a sample, melding fluidly with the creaky atmosphere which sits halfway between a lullaby and an agitated daydream.

Elsewhere Rubberband is an attractive mixture of drums that thump and crackle with a sluggish inevitability and Ecks’ trademark crooning, while Blaksuit sounds like a slowed-down Funk break taken offroad as his voice exalts the sounds of Mt Zion and echoes off into the nebulous ether. The tracks flow into each other or stop abruptly with the same attractive incoherence as on A Sufi And A Killer, creating unpredictable vibes that suit Ecks’ subject matter of inner conflict perfectly. Each tune here offers something different and worth exploring, but the brevity of the songs means there’s rarely enough time to actually getting into the sound before you’re essentially listening to something else.

Not only are the tracks short, but the album itself is incredibly slight, running just under 25 minutes with only a couple of songs pushing past three minutes. Ultimately this proves to be quite a disabling problem, because as a listener you don’t feel like there’s a whole lot to hold on to. Ecks’ lyrics, when audible, always provide interesting thoughts; ranging from his continued discussions of his violent thoughts and creation as destruction to conflicted references between his Sufist and Rastafarian leanings.  Similarly in musical terms there is a broad array of styles and instruments that seem to cohere in their incoherence, as if all the sounds wear the same weathered mask but are bound together by their dissonance and unpredictability. This would all be good if there were some fine grooves set up, with the music acting as an accessible base from which to tackle the more difficult questions of composition and lyrics. A Sufi and A Killer  was half composed of mad deviations and half of smoother Trip Hop grooves, and this meant that it could be listened to as an uneasy, conflicted whole or individual songs that could be played for their pure musicality. Here the latter isn’t really an option, MU.ZZ.LE suffers as an album for being so succinct and difficult, so while it’s always an interesting listen it’s rarely exciting in the conventional sense.

There is a lot to dive into here, but I think it’s telling that the two tracks here that exceed the three-minute mark are the two that feel like they are most wholly realised. The first is the aforementioned Nikels And Dimes and the second is late-album highlight The Blame, which could be seen as a culmination of Ecks’ mental torment. Here his lyrics are more lucid and audible than anywhere else on the album, as he lets loose on both contemporary society and himself (‘I know I’m not the perfect man / and I never claimed to be / I’ve done some things in my time / even i’m ashamed of me’). The song is a slow and dramatic testament to just how brilliant Gonjasufi can sound, but also highlights how frustratingly short and condensed a lot of the rest of the material on display is. By no means am I saying that Ecks should artificially lengthen his songs or albums to make them more digestible, but if your chosen format is music then making at least one element of your sound accessible is surely to be recommended.

So MU.ZZ.LE is by no means an easy album, but it still has a huge amount to offer. If you’re looking for a trippy and soulful background to a smoking session then this will stand up as a successor to A Sufi and A Killer, but you’d be missing a lot of what Ecks is really saying. The instrumentation, construction and lyrical content of this LP perfectly gets across the inner workings of a conflicted mind, yet the album too often comes across as demanding and wilfully difficult for it to be a truly great work. Gonjasufi continues to prove himself an utterly unique voice in today’s music scene, and I’m sure he will continue to walk a path entirely his own, but it would be nice to have a little more attention paid to the role of the listener on the next release.


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