Thursday, March 1, 2012



By Danny Spiteri.

It feels hardly out of line to say that Sumach Ecks, more commonly known as Gonjasufi, has what is easily one of the most unique voices in modern music. He doesn't so much sing as he does deliver an eerie, haunting, and ultimately very effective wheeze that sounds aged by decades of heavy use (somewhat counter-intuitively, Ecks is only in his early 30s at the time of this review).

Like most people, I was first introduced to Gonjasufi by way of his guest spot on the track "Testament" from Flying Lotus's 2008 LP Los Angeles. The promise Ecks showed on that track led him to signing with Warp Records, and eventually releasing his debut album A Sufi and a Killer in 2010. The album saw Gonjasufi collaborating with producer The Gaslamp Killer, the "killer" in the album's title, to create one of the most distinctive and difficult to define releases of that year. The sufi's unmistakeable vocals were complemented by the killer's extremely varied production style, which incorporated samples of everything from Middle Eastern music to psychedelic rock to punk and more. Factor in a couple of bonus beats from Mainframe, as well as one from Flying Lotus himself, and the result is an eclectic, undeniably memorable, and ultimately very engaging collection of songs.

A remix album and an EP later, Gonjasufi is back with his second full-length album, a mini-LP titled MU.ZZ.LE. With a running time that only just exceeds 24 minutes, this release clocks in at less than half of the length of A Sufi and a Killer, leaving Ecks time for ten relatively short tracks. As evidenced by his debut album, the man is no stranger to brevity, but the tracks on MU.ZZ.LE take this shortness to a slightly more extreme point.

The album's most apparent change, however, is brought on by the production. The Gaslamp Killer's eclectic mix of styles has been swapped out for a much more cohesive sound handled by San Diego producer Psychopop and Gonjasufi himself. Unfortunately, though it does help the tracks on MU.ZZ.LE feel more unified, this change in approach sacrifices one of the things that made Gonjasufi's music so interesting to me initially. Whereas A Sufi and a Killer was an exciting journey through a myriad of somewhat wildly different musical cultures, MU.ZZ.LE feels like a relatively stagnant set of unfinished songs, each covering unflatteringly similar ground. Trading in variety for cohesion isn't an inherently problematic decision, but doing so in this case turns the short track lengths into a considerable flaw. Lack of development within a given song was justified on Gonjasufi's debut by the drastic stylistic shifts; however, without those shifts to supply the album with a sense of movement, these songs feel like aimless trudges through a narrow road of undercooked ideas.

I don't mean to suggest that this album features absolutely no variety, however; "Nikels and Dimes" and "The Blame" find Gonjasufi's voice in a clearer place in the mix, and "Venom" features a tripped out recording of what sounds like an automated telephone message. Ecks' wife even makes an appearance on the tracks "Feedin Birds" and "Skin" providing vocals, which mesh successfully with both her husband's voice and the surrounding instrumentation. Despite this, though, I can't shake the rushed and lackluster feeling this album gives off, especially when comparing it to A Sufi and a Killer. MU.ZZ.LE falls short of its predecessor in nearly every way imaginable: the melodies aren't quite as powerful, the mix is messier, and transitions between certain tracks, "Feedin Birds" and "Nikels and Dimes" being the prime example, feel awkward and abrupt.

Issues aside, Gonjasufi still wields a very unique and powerful voice, which serves to be MU.ZZ.LE's most redeeming quality. With that in mind, it's possible that this album will appeal more to people when it is their first exposure to Gonjasufi, mostly because his vocals will possess a sense of freshness that could potentially overshadow some of the album's issues. In my case, however, although I do still appreciate Ecks' singularity, that freshness is not powerful enough to obscure a few glaring problems. I'm aware that I've spent much of this review comparing MU.ZZ.LE to A Sufi and a Killer, but I find it too difficult to ignore the feeling that this album is a step down for 'Sufi. Where his debut LP shines as a great introduction to a promising new figure, MU.ZZ.LE is a less bold, less realized, and ultimately less interesting followup. Regardless, I most definitely haven't given up hope on Gonjasufi's ability to impress me again some time in the future. A Sufi and a Killer is proof that Ecks is very capable of putting together a release that complements his talents, but until he works out some of his kinks, I'll be approaching his music with caution.

Score: Strong 5

(Like this review? Disagree vehemently? Somewhere in between? Feel free to throw your opinions at Danny on Twitter.)

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