Gonjasufi - Callus

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  • Calluses form on parts of the body that are subjected to stress, labour or fracture. They're marks of experience and trauma, mounds of skin made thicker and harder to protect the softer flesh underneath. American artist Sumach Ecks is surely familiar with calluses, both physical and emotional, and his voice seems callused, too. It's a pained, weathered cry, the sound of a life of ups and downs. That raspy singing has been Ecks' calling card since he discovered it around 2009. Before then, he was a rapper under his own name, but when he emerged on Flying Lotus's "Testament," he was reborn as Gonjasufi. His smoky voice carried a mystical quality that was highlighted on his debut album, A Sufi & A Killer, bolstered with beats from the likes of FlyLo and The Gaslamp Killer. After releasing a few EPs and being sampled by Jay-Z, Ecks returns six years later with a follow-up album. Like the M.U.Z.Z.L.E. mini-LP, Callus is a self-produced record that makes A Sufi & A Killer feel dense in comparison. Coughing drum machines, the occasional sitar and strange synth sounds complement Ecks' howls, along with another prominent player: ex-Cure guitarist Pearl Thompson. His tones are distorted and ratty, the melodies fractured and spider-webbed. Thompson can play plaintive and simple (like the frail, late-album highlight "Shakin Parasites," which is as much about Thompson as Ecks) or he can go classic rock (like the fuzzy "The Kill," which sounds grand even at under two minutes). "Poltergeist" has stunning bowed strings and a guitar that feels macho and melancholy in equal measure, like a Smashing Pumpkins demo tape. That's not to diminish Ecks, whose voice is more powerful and carries more aching passion than it has on past records. He sounds constantly on the edge—"once in a while I crack," he gasps on "Maniac Depressant"—sometimes in anger, sometimes in desperation. His lyrics are a mixture of indecipherable mumbles, fragments of wisdom and, less convincingly, earnest polemics ("Prints Of Sun," the anti-Jesus freak tirade "The Jinx"). Callus is more about the individual phrases that catch your ear. On "Your Maker," Ecks asks: "Is anything private?" on opener "Your Maker." On the harrowing "Shakin Parasites," he wheezes: "I was never meant to be this fucked up." As Ecks blows his words into distorted oblivion, you can feel the calluses forming until they become unwieldy masses. Sometimes the sounds are more powerful than the actual lyrics, especially in the songs borne of pain, both personal and societal. By the time the record ends with "Last Nightmare," it's a defeated kind of triumph, the numb relief of making it through something difficult. Callus was made over the course four years, through frustration and hopelessness. It's not always an easy listen. Sometimes it sounds uncomfortably close, other times it's off-piste and rambling. The clarity of the songwriting varies wildly across its 19 tracks, though the sound quality doesn't, always rendered with the lo-fi fuzz of a busted mic and a TASCAM four-track. Callus is the sound of someone exorcising their demons with nothing but a few pieces of gear and his own snarling weapon of a voice—and growing stronger for it.
  • Tracklist
      01. Your Maker 02. Maniac Depressant 03. Afrikan Spaceship 04. Carolyn Shadows 05. Ole Man Sufferah 06. Greasemonkey 07. The Kill 08. Prints Of Sin 09. Krishna Punk 10. Elephant Man 11. The Conspiracy 12. Poltergeist 13. Vinaigrette 14. Devils 15. Surfinfinity 16. When I Die 17. The Jinx 18. Shakin Parasites 19. Last Nightmare