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White Noise: Gonjasufi – A Sufi And A Killer

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Gonjasufi – A Sufi And A Killer



I've Given

Sumach Ecks has been called 'spiritual' by more reviews and magazines than I'd care to count, and although the yoga instructor-cum-songwriter has a definite edge of the spiritual to his music, I found the hype around the release of the album focused more on his neo-psychadelic spirituality than on the actual quality of the music. And the reason that this is such a shame is that this LP, produced by the illustrious likes of Flying Lotus and The Gaslamp Killer, is a thrillingly versatile and accomplished debut by an artist who is genuinely unlike anything else out there at the moment.

Although the album has a normal runtime of an hour there are 20 tracks here and it feels like a lot of material, indeed it is a testament to the quality of the songwriting that many of the shorter one and two-minute tracks feel like fully rounded songs rather than the irritating interludes we see so frequently in 21st century releases. However as a result of this the listener may be at first overwhelmed by the volume of different sounds and ideas coming across in the record, yet thankfully Ecks has circumvented this in two ways. The first is the hazy and trippy ambience instilled across the record, with dropped beats and psych-guitar reverbing all over the shop, lending the shorter tracks a needed coherence in the context of the whole. The second, and perhaps more notable achievement is his distinctive and distorted vocals which croak, howl and croon while veering wildly between clear and completely incomprehensible. Even with these assets, this album is not a particularly easy listen. Occasionally the transitions between tracks feels deliberately jarring, such as that between the melodic piano closing She Gone and the guttural roar which opens SuzieQ, and while the impression that there is a case of split personality to this records as it jolts around reinforces Ecks' central theme (showcased in the title) of the personal conflict between a peaceful yoga teacher and his violent past, the listener can feel more than a little alienated by the cacophony.

So its a good thing that this album is absolutely brimming with great tracks. Ecks certainly knows how to evoke trip-notic atmosphere in the likes of FlyLo produced third track Ancestors in which reverbed beats make it sound like a dusty offcut from the producer's stellar album Los Angeles, or in the exotic and snaking guitars of Kobwebz. He continues along the theme later in the album with highlights Change and Duet, the first a scratchy low-key soul number and the latter a bass-heavy piece with memorable vocal hooks and a game-changing sliding guitar soaring across the soundscape. As nice as these cuts are, the tracks that are a little different often prove to be even more spectacular. Sheep is a soothing ballad and Ecks' quietest moment, cut into gorgeously by a bollywood-esque female vocal sample that reaches a fever pitch before developing into a belting bluesy burst of lyrical schizophrenia, showcasing almost all of his best traits in a single track. Candylane is unashamed porn-soundtrack fare, and revels in this fact with Ecks' filthy vocals, while following track Holidays is a stripped beat with a building, clipped synth melody that is a breath of fresh electronic air after the crowded material in the rest of the release. Closer Made is a moody piece that seems crafted out of dust and melancholy horns, followed by a brilliant secret track that is all distortion and rock guitar. Meanwhile possibly my favourite track is penultimate cut I've Given which begins a gentle and faded guitar ballad before a minute in where the sound drops away, blending and building itself into a ferocious eastern-style synth melody that swirls blearingly around the listener with infectious energy before being superceded at the close by an electro-Hendrix solo. The transition is one of the not infrequent moments on the record where Ecks' true skill as a songwriter shines through as the songs seem to construct and deconstruct themselves beautifully without any outside influence.

It's not an easy listen both because of the distorted noise and the schizophrenic transitions, but there's an enormous amount of quality material across the record that outweighs the hype and backstory of its creator, making this a record that may at first be hard to like but after a few spins will certainly be easy to love.


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