review: Gonjasufi, 'MU.ZZ.LE'

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I'm fascinated by Gonjasufi. This alter-ego of Californian yoga teacher Sumach Valentine emerged out of the San Diego hip-hop scene on the '90s, and nowadays his music is more of a psychedelic blur caught between genres. On his full length debut A Sufi and A Killer he worked with the Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus to create a mix of hip hop beats and 60s psych rock, and when I saw the Gonajsufi live show last year it had more common with the Stooges and MC5 than hip-hop. The constant factor was Sumach's voice, which is a spooked, cracked, almost otherworldly instrument, often heavily processed to sound even more distant.
MU.ZZ.LE follows hot on the heels of the freely distributed EP The 9th Inning, which was a brief collection of older tracks that had never been released, and it had more of a hip-hop vibe although it still drifted through a variety of sounds. MU.ZZ.LE contains ten tracks though it only runs for 25 minutes and the songs seldom get past the 3 minute mark. This time around production duties are split with San Diego's Psychopop and the overall sound has moved away from both straightforward hip-hop and psych rock towards something more coherent and individual. The voice is central to it all, in turns creepy and sinister, then warm and smooth, it's no wonder that he is often mentioned in the same breath as other unique voices such as Tom Waits, Leadbelly and Bjork.
'White Picket Fence' is a startling curveball of an opener, the overall mix of vocals, drums and electric piano is skewed and stretched and heavily reverbed so that it's immediately unsettling and attention seeking. 'Feedin' Birds' is equally striking, early Magic Band style dynamics accompany a duet with his wife, their vocals both treated telephonically.
'Nikels and Dimes' is the stand-out track; it's a multi-layered piece with some relatively uptempo beats underpinning a swirling, circling melody.
The likes of 'Time Out' and 'Skin' are abrasive and edgy, while 'Venom' is downbeat and soothing and 'The Blame' owes most to his hip-hop roots. Brief closing track 'Sniffin' is the most experimental, with disjointed bursts of electric guitar contrasting with a dreamy vocal.
When I heard MU.ZZ.LE was only 25 minutes long I thought that it would feel like a tease but it's actually pretty satisfying. It makes me hunger for what Gonjasufi will do next.

MU.ZZ.LE is out now on Warp records.

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