Flying Lotus’ Brainfeeder is about to be off to a tremendous start if the production on A Sufi and a Killer is any indication. While only one beat features the stylings of label head Flying Lotus, primary psych-rock/hip-hop DJ Gaslamp Killer more than picks up the slack with a style equally suitable for Sumach Valentine, aka GonjaSufi. “Ancestors” previews Flying Lotus’ own upcoming LP Cosmogramma, and Sufi sounds incredible in there, haunted and full of some new, distorted form of soul. However, Gaslamp’s ’60s psychedelia style is a large part of what makes songs like “Sheep” and “Stardustin'” what they are. He brings a diversity of arrangements and ideas that make A Sufi and a Killer a unique brand, one that bears the trademarks of the artists involved, normally for the better.
However, GonjaSufi is sparking a hard discussion with this album as well. Lo-fidelity has been a movement in music for far longer than most care to remember; birthed in the dark ages of recording technology as the only option, popular music has long sold audiences on the novelty of fidelity. Whether it was the Velvet Underground’s self-conscious contradiction of norms in the ’60s, the punks in the ’70s, the SST movement in the ’80s, Robert Pollard in the ’90s, or the In the Red Recordings and glo-fi movements of the ’00s, most forms of rock music have experienced an underbelly of acts opposed to letting us hear them for what they are, and it’s particularly those psychedelic records of the ’60s that inform many of Gaslamp Killer’s soundscapes.
Songs like “SuzieQ” imply Sufi may in fact have heard an In the Red record or two, but the fact of the matter is his voice is in constant contrast to most of the music here. It works early; “Ancestors” is nearly transcendent, and “Sheep” is only some clumsy lyrics away from being a psychedelic masterpiece, but as GLK reels the rock elements in, as on “Stardustin'”, the set starts to collapse under the weight of the consistently low-in-the-mix, loud-in-the-speakers aggressive production on Sufi’s voice. I’ve played “Kowboyz & Indianz” in the car to fully mixed reactions: keep the beat, leave the vocals. And It’s a consistent reaction across a spectrum of listeners. Interestingly, it’s usually the Mainframe-produced section (previously collaborated with Blu for Johnson&Jonson) that receives the warmest reception; this four-track medley features a funkier GonjaSufi, and his vocals sound a little more pop than usual. Still, by the end of the album I unfortunately just feel a little numb to the vocals.
I’m willing to give this album a break because I love the production here, and when Sufi’s really hitting, he’s certainly a unique presence. I don’t think you’d have ever imagined hearing the samples on “Change”, “Candylane” (a great song — perhaps Sufi should be working on a funk album instead?), and “Dust” with a voice like this on top of them. But, in some ways, it is also samples that hold this album back; sometimes I wonder what Sufi would sound like with a band rather than loops and juggles behind him. GonjaSufi’s is a voice that seems eager to do as it pleases (within the confines of its mastering), and I wonder how he’d react to a band playing off of him. It might also help alleviate some of the awkwardness of his vocals, since the music could offer him some assistance when the going gets tough. I’ve listened to this album a lot just trying to make sense of it, though, and have walked away mostly pleased. Give GonjaSufi credit for stimulating the mind, if nothing else.