by Curt Busch
Gonjasufi first oozed onto wax as a guest singer on “Testament”, a standout track from Flying Lotus’s game-changing Los Angeles album. His low, coarse vocals crooned over FlyLo’s terrestrial jazz beat with inspired wisdom. The LA rapper-turned-singer has spent the two years since that performance crafting the same meditative moan over diverse scores, most of which are provided by ace producer The Gaslamp Killer. The result is A Sufi and a Killer, a brooding lo-fi R&B album sung by, seemingly, some sort of shaman. The Warp Records debut makes for one of the most intriguing listens of LA’s recent shroom-gobbling post-hip-hop albums.
The ridiculously fertile LA “beat” scene has pushed open some interesting doors musically; witnessing producers like Flying Lotus and Nosaj Thing push the limits of hip-hop and electronic music with unprecedented computer-wizardry. With the same progressive awareness of his kinfolk, The Gaslamp Killer blazes a different path. Dub-y blips and synthetic drums take a back seat to a crate full of rare records. The methods are traditionally hip-hop but the music is not. Gaslamp has created a bed of beats that defy labels, giving the free-spirited Gonjasufi a commanding presence over these songs.
Opener “Kobwebs” is the best representation of the contrasting sounds on display here. We get a percussion-heavy, mid-tempo break beat (faintly recalling mid-90s DJ Shadow), a looping Eastern-psychedelic guitar riff, and glitch-y dub-echoes and IDM blips. Flying Lotus contributes “Ancestors”, the second track, featuring particularly hard-hitting bass, spacey-guitar samples, and stuttering post-Dilla hand claps. Introspective and spiritual lyrics recall the passing of time in a soulful remembrance of ancestors. While Gonjasufi’s lyrics suggest a spiritual subtext in some songs and moral quandaries on others, the real magic lies in his otherworldly voice.
Haunted and mystical, the vocals throughout A Sufi and a Killer drift in and out like an ancient AM radio. Gonjasufi succeeds (for the most part) in channeling many styles through his croaking baritone. He testifies like a wounded blues singer on “Ageing” and “She Gone”, quivers and shakes like Tom Waits on the Eastern-sampled “Kowboys and Indians”, and weeps tenderly like, dare I say, Amy Whinehouse on “Sheep”. While major props must be extended to Gaslamp’s eerie hybrid concoction, it is Gonjasufi who impressively holds the album together with experienced versatility and added coolness to his cryptic delivery. Somehow the bizarre analog psych-punk of “Suzie Cue” doesn’t sound out of place, nor does Mainframe’s overt hip-hop production on the back-to-back “Candylane” and “Holidays” (in which ‘Sufi brings to mind Dudley Perkins neo-soul searching on his Madlib-produced LPs). Gaslamp brings Gonjasufi back to ghostly landscapes of world-psych and grungy blues for “I’m Given” and closer “Made”, which puts just enough reverb on the chorus to fill out the spacious beat.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the album lies in its mixing which opts for a dusty, lo-fi sound similar to Madlib’s hazy aesthetic choices. AGDM, the engineer who worked with J Dilla before his passing, lets the vocals crawl up from under the instrumentation like water building to a boil. It is these unique creative touches that make Gonjasufi and The Gaslamp Killer a fated partnership, one that will certainly be remembered come year-end.