, September 12th, 2016 08:43
Sumach Ecks, better known as American musician Gonjasufi, has spent the last four years working on the followup to his acclaimed 2012 album MU.ZZ.LE. Gone are the samples he usually mixes in and reworks in favour of a sound that is uniquely and distinctly his: Callus, instead, is an album he hopes “other people will one day sample themselves”. “It was exhausting making the record…it was probably the hardest piece of art I’ve had to work on” he says, and at an epic 19 tracks long, it’s perhaps no wonder.
Album opener ‘Your Maker’ is gloriously dark, setting the tone for a record that Gonjasufi says “America needs to fucking hear.” Lo-fi and grungey, his emotional message is sung through heavy distortion and drone. “Is anyone else tired, from working all the slave ships?” It’s a candid, angry message delivered at a time when race is at the forefront of American politics. Challenging what is happening loudly through preacher-like, stream-of-conscious confessionals, Gonjasufi tells it as it is, emotively and honestly. The track’s fuzz provides welcome moments to pause and reflect on the intensity of the message.
There’s no letup in this intensity and Gonjasufi takes us into a personal and social dystopia – think 1984 or War of the Worlds. Like earlier albums, Gonjasufi continues with musical experimentation perhaps best illustrated on tracks such as ‘Carolyn Shadows’ and the brilliantly addictive ‘Krishna Punk’. Here, Gonjasufi creates terrifying sounds, Screaming Jay Hawkins-like, to reflect the chaos of the world around him. It makes for a disorientating listen, perhaps reflective of the fear, isolation and otherness he and many others Americans feel in a society that is so deeply divided socially and culturally. “Everything’s Fucked” he candidly sings, and looking back at what’s happened in 2016 America, it’s hard to disagree with an album that is as much a challenge for change as it is a plea for hope.
Callus delivers its overt message in a highly original, dark-instrumental style against noise and drone. Fuzz, heavy bass and electro synth are juxtaposed alongside Gonjasufi’s own impressive playing of guitar, drums and piano. Pearl Thomson, formerly of The Cure, also appears on tracks such as ‘The Kill’ helping to tie together some of Callus’s deliberate chaos. ‘The Conspiracy’, ‘Last Nightmare’ and the opening to ‘Surfinity’ are the stuff of dystopian nightmares – you won’t forget their message easily.
As well as being a record about America, this is also a record about Gonjasufi. Having dealt with serious mental issues that caused him crippling self-doubt, anger and all out bi-polar episodes, which once saw him running across a mall to aggressively confront voices he heard where there were none, it’s clear he’s still dealing with his demons on tracks such as ‘When I Die’, ‘The Jinx’ and ‘Old Man Sufferah’. At times, Callus invites listeners to step inside the darkness a mental illness brings in an emotive, nightmarish and often deeply unsettling listen. Gonjasufi is not only asking us to imagine the pain it brings, but he’s asking us to imagine how much harder it is to deal with when you’re living in that “fucked up” society he says America has become. Ultimately, there is hope on the quieter, reflective moments on the album – but you have to search hard to find them.
Most of these lighter moments can in fact be found where snatches of world music appear – a favourite of Gonjasufi's from his childhood and early career on the San Diego DJ scene. Born to a Mexican mother and an American-Ethiopian father who each introduced him to jazz and music from each of their respective birth backgrounds, he developed a love for the music he parents played him as a child. When he came of age as DJ and musician on a culturally diverse hip-hop scene, he was introduced to Turkish psych-pop and Ethiopian jazz by his fellow DJ’s such as Gaslamp Killer. It’s perhaps used to think back to a time that was more innocent, peaceful and calmer – a time where hope could perhaps be found.
The album is a chronicle of the pain and suffering Gonjasufi has experienced in his life individually and socially – and it’s a message that speaks loudly to America. It’s an album that needs the thick-skin its title connotes to listen – you won’t emerge from it feeling joyous, but you will emerge seeing a truth that will deeply unsettle.