Sumach Echs’ first record for Warp as Gonjasufi, A Sufi and a Killer, included tracks produced by Gaslamp Killer, Flying Lotus and Mainframe, but with his newest 10-song “mini-album,” he has chosen to go it alone and the result is a much more uniformly dark piece of work. Most of the songs are mixed so one bleeds into the next, and the resulting flow of bleakness and introspection wanders through a psychedelic ride, earnest ethical intervention, confessional and incantation of a toxic present.
While Echs may live somewhere out in the Nevada desert, his productions sound unmistakably urban, the clattering drums and circling sampled melodies suggesting a bruised and broken inner city, one that doesn’t exist in any specific place so much as in the collective unconscious of the 21st century United States (and in different forms in other places). It surfaces here and there but hangs in the back of the imagination without respite.
This effect is heightened by his voice, the rasping, grizzled vehicle for lyrics that, unlike most lyrics at the moment, are motivated by a desire to say something that is difficult to say rather than simply because a song should have words that are sung to be a song. That said, there are some pretty spacey chains of words in there, repeated, mantra-like, and when he takes his most direct stabs at being critical of human behavior (“Nikels an Dimes”) and his own behavior (“The Blame”) it can come off a little preachy and wobbly, even while revealing laudable intentions.
My favorite moment on the record may well be “Timeout,” a storm of raw, off-kilter drums and slurred melody that spirals into a hypnotic abyss, as delightful as it is demented and unnerving. “Feedin’ Birds” flashes a trip-hop pedigree, stumbling forward until a female voice slides in for a moment of levity in the claustrophobia that otherwise defines it. “Nikels an Dimes” was justifiably the first taste of the record shipped out to the blogs, driven and impassioned from beginning to end, a vessel delivering social commentary with gravity and immediacy.
Heavy and crowded with shades of black as it is, MU.ZZ.LE does not deal in the playful and roomier moments of A Sufi and a Killer. And that’s fine. It is good to see Gonjasufi is a project that moves, that will not stay what it was, whether that means Echs shifting the tone of the sounds on his own or bringing in collaborators to aid him in developing new directions. MU.ZZ.LE feels like a very personal record, its direness something registered and rendered by someone who has found it pervading the atmospheres in which he lives. A dose of the hard stuff to be taken when feeling good feels all wrong.
Stream: Gonjasufi – “Nikels an Dimes”