At its best, Gonjasufi’s first full-length album A Sufi and a Killer was a study in contrasts. Gonjasufi’s gruff, blatantly non-commercial voice grinded against sweet J Dilla-esque soul samples. You got the idea that Sumach Valentine was almost daring listeners to tune out. It was simultaneously compelling, oddly pleasing and just a little bit scary. On MU.ZZ.LE, his new 10-song mini-album, Valentine, who splits producing duties between himself and fellow San Diego native Psychopop, seems to be going exclusively for chills. The beats simmer and creak along with a Freddie Kreuger-like persistence. The song “Rubberband” is reminiscent of Valentine’s last album, with its bottom-of-the-crate soul sample, but it gets warped into a funhouse-mirror version of itself and layered with distortion and grinding guitars.
The abysmally dark tone is more suited to Valentine’s unique voice: a kind of honey-poured-over hot gravel warble that’s just as much indebted to Sly Stone as it is to Tom Waits. The result may be a less consistently gratifying album than A Sufi and a Killer, which hop-scotched from psychedelica to trip-hop to stoner-blues. But MU.ZZ.LE does give you a clearer picture of just who this guy is. Valentine is clearly embracing his dervish persona on tracks like “Nickels and Dimes,” plaintively moaning, “It all depends how the story ends … .” Listening to this, you picture Valentine twirling madly in the Mojave desert where he recorded MU.ZZ.LE, barking these songs to the heavens as his massive dreads running finger-like through bleak, star-soaked night.
Even listeners already familiar with Gonjasufi’s work will be amazed at the sheer versatility of this guy’s voice. On “Skin”, Valentine’s voice, simultaneously grating and soothing, trails like languid smoke through a churning industrial grind. It burbles and croaks like toxic ooze on “Venom”. “Every time I go somewhere, I feel the dread inside their eyes,” he sweetly drones on “The Blame”. You get the feeling that he means it. Valentine’s music is not for the faint of heart. It must be tough to sustain a consistent level of desolation. MU.ZZ.LE is only 25 minutes in total, and only two of the albums 10 tracks rise above the three-minute mark.
It’s probably for the best that this much concentrated gloom is contained to short bursts. Any longer and the album’s blunted-out drone may start to wear thin. Still, it would be nice to hope for a more fleshed out full-length in the near future. If A Sufi and a Killer introduced us to an engaging new presence, then MU.ZZ.LE is his first artistically cohesive statement: a bold first stab at playing with space and mood. It’s a compelling reason to keep watching to see what he’ll do next, because if this is what Gonjasufi sounds like muzzled, we should all be very afraid when he finally decides to unleash.
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// Notes from the Road
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