, February 2nd, 2012 12:12
When Anthony the Great went in search of spiritual clarity in the barrenness of the Nitrian Desert, he inspired so many others to follow him that the sands became “like a city.” Sumach Ecks found himself on a similar journey: moving to Nevada, winding up in an altogether different city in the desert, Las Vegas. The deeply religious yoga teacher found himself living in the City of Sin. This quest for an ascetic spiritualism, the reality of Las Vegas, encapsulates the turmoil within Gonjasufi, and the sound of MU.ZZ.LE - an enticing, intoxicating, at times uncomfortable record.
Though it lasts only 25 minutes MU.ZZ.LE seems to exist achronologically, outside of time. The effect is that of being dragged into the dusty Memory Palace of a man at war with himself, uneasy and fragile. Time dilates and stretches as Ecks rails against the devil, God, society, the greedy and ultimately his own failings.
Those familiar with Gonjasufi will not find stylistic shocks here. Instead his sound is distilled, resulting in a world that seems limitless, both in scope and aural expansiveness. The yin/yang tension that ran through A Sufi And A Killer is still present, so too the fractured nostalgia - memory and recollection, both out of focus and hard to place. The comforting anchor of a familiar past is rarely in evidence here; this is a man adrift in a sea of indistinct and distant murmuring.
Independent of Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus, Gonjasufi retains the muddy production; drums rumble rather than snap. For the most part, though, gone are the hyper-energetic breaks and sharp stabs. We're left with a thick fog which parts occasionally to let through distant piano, guitar, or choral harmonies. 'Blaksuit' is archetypal Gonjasufi, Nevada hip hop, lethargic guitar. 'Venom' is the feeling of distance, alienation and lack of place - a refrain of an automatic telephone message runs through it “if you can't make a connection, please hang up and dial again”. Ecks is once again as lyrically evocative as he is vocally idiosyncratic. 'White Picket Fence' is almost pure half-spoken anxiety. He warns on 'Feedin' Birds' that there is no solution, and he cannot be counted upon. The female backing vocals on 'Skin' pile on a sense of psychic claustrophobia, nonchalant or disinterested. Do they echo his words back to him, or taunt him in their repetition?
MU.ZZ.LE's palette is muted, but not solely doom. Joy and clarity (mental and sonic) punctuate the murk. 'Nikels & Dimes' begins with a happy, giggling child, before skewering inequality with a blunt lucidity. 'The Blame' is sudden, surefooted (both in production and intent), its defiance borne of a crisis of faith. Crucially though, such 'positives' only heighten the sense of deep disquiet, they are fleeting counterpoints or quixotic self-delusions. The happy child soon leaves. The clarity is pure mania, a fantasy, doomed to slip away unfulfilled.
The album finishes by tumbling into 'Sniffin'' the most energetic, but least comprehensible track. We're left by turns ill at ease, sharing in joy, defiant and cowed. MU.ZZ.LE is a document of mania, claustrophobia, depression, fervent religiosity, crippling self-doubt, clarity and paranoia – as thrilling as it is troubling.