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Gonjasufi - A Sufi and a Killer

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Artist: Gonjasufi

Album: A Sufi and a Killer

Label: Warp

Review date: Apr. 14, 2010

San Diego’s underground rap crew Masters of the Universe are hardly a household name, even to the nerdiest Definitive Jux or Anticon head. From that crew, Sumach Ecks self-released CD-Rs of malefic hip-hop that made for strange company between most albums on your shelf. A friend later introduced Ecks to the practice of Yoga after he found himself at odds with the world. Claiming it was life-changing and later becoming an instructor; it seemed to improve not only his sense of well-being, but his art, too. Now with more focus than ever and Warp backing him, Sumach Ecks records as Gonjasufi, making some truly anomalous, genre-traversing music.

Ecks may be familiar to those following Los Angeles’s post-Dilla beat scene. His appearance on Flying Lotus’ jazz bass-ridden “Testament” broadcasted a voice with the hair-on-neck-raising quality of Billie Holliday — intimate but distant, fractured but gorgeous. On A Sufi and a Killer, he spills 30 years of angst into a Pollock-splattered mess spanning psych, soul, downtempo and left-field hip hop, resulting in a genuinely unique soundworld, equal parts Portishead and Madlib.

Collaborating with DJ/producer the Gaslamp Killer (save for a stoned four-song suite by Mainframe), the two share an undeniable chemistry. GLK dredges the murkiest ’60s Turkish psych from his crates on “DedNd” and “I’ve Given,” with Eck’s voice sounding as retrograded as the samples themselves. He sings, “I got the trigger cocked back / Watch these devils drop back,” on the former; the latter, “All of my love again, I keep on giving.” This is the duality that is Gonjasufi: the Yoga instructor looking for karmic balance, and the sketchy guy next to you on the subway.

The lyric sheet for this album is terse — Ecks uses laconic lines (both rapped and sung) between breakdowns, in turn adding more space to the album’s already expansive conceit. What’s best is the way his voice paradoxically matches the sonics of each song. His acerbic shrills register in the red often, and it’s this contrast of damaged vocals with tuned instruments that’s most compelling: “She Gone” sounds like a White Album b-side with Ecks singing through a $2 mic.

At 20 songs deep, this is a long program, but there is really no fat to trim. All of the songs are patently fleshed out, and in spite of the laundry list of ideas, it never seems claustrophobic. No question, A Sufi And A Killer is a stoner record, but it has enough going for it to transcend bong-hit soundtracks. All due respect to FlyLo, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this eventually becomes the defining record of the current L.A. beat scene.

By Jon Dempsey

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